Ms. Magazine

spring 2003
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this is what a feminist looks like

The Feminist To-Do List by Gloria Steinem
Ms. Poll Feminist Tide Sweeps In as the 21st Century Begins by Lorraine Dusky
Affirmative Action on Trial by Teresa Stern
Women on Death Row by Claudia Dreifus
In the Thick of Life at 70 by Jessica Chornesky

Special Action Alert
Women Take Action Worldwide
Listing: Coalitions and Groups
National Council of Women's Organizations Statement on War with Iraq
NCWO Partial Members List
Why Peace is (More Than Ever) a Feminist Issue
by Grace Paley

Writing of War and Its Consequences
Ghosts of Home by Patricia Sarrafian Ward
Tales from an Ordinary Iranian Girlhood by Marjane Satrapi
Snow in Summer: LA, CA, 1963 by Helen Zelon

Pat Summitt's 800th Victory
Augusta Golf Club's Red Face
National Map of Priest Abuse
Women Warriors
Lesbians with Strollers
Kopp Trial
Trouble in Herat, Afghanistan
Reproductive Rights in Poland
Health Clinics in Guatemala
Congolese Women for Peace
Global Good News Round-Up
The Opposite of a Nuclear Bomb

Lower Breast Cancer Risks by Liz Galst
The Making of an Activist by Gloria Feldt
Nature Conservancy Gains by Rachel Rabkin
Harvard Stumbles on Rape Rules by Lorraine Dusky
The Bush Overhaul of Federal Courts by Stephanie B. Goldberg
My Friend Yeshi by Alice Walker

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Liz Galst is deputy editor of MAMM, and in 2001 won a Clarion Award from Women in Communications for her year-long series, "Nicki Marsh Got Cancer at 25: Welcome to Her Life."

News on Lower Breast Cancer Risks
By Liz Galst

Maybe because the news media seems unable to focus on more than one women's health story at a time, some of the most important breast cancer news in years got buried last summer, amidst the attention given to other studies that grabbed headlines and hogged broadcast time.

That news? That breastfeeding reduces breast cancer risk. Says Oxford University epidemiologist Valerie Berall Ph.D., lead author of a study published in a July 2002 issue of the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, "We looked at all kinds of different characteristics: age when [women] had their child[ren], whether they smoked or drank alcohol, how tall they were, how many children they had; and this 4.3 percent [lifetime] risk reduction [per year of breastfeeding] seemed to be pretty across-the-board." The study, called a "meta-analysis" by epidemiologists, re-analyzed data from smaller studies involving almost 150,000 women from 30 countries worldwide.

For an individual, a 4.3 percent risk reduction per year of breastfeeding might not seem that high. And Beral agrees. "For an individual, we can't definitively say, you'll benefit."' But within a large population, such as that of the United States, increasing the total amount of breastfeeding "will really make a difference" in overall breast cancer rates, Berall says.
In fact, Beral and her collaborators found that breastfeeding alone is responsible for "almost half the difference" between the generally high breast cancer rates in the West and the relatively low rates in the developing world. During the time periods studied, Western women had, on average, 2.5 children and breastfed them for a couple of months each, if at all. By contrast, women in the developing world had much larger families-- six or seven children-- and breastfed each for about two years. The researchers found that the estimated incidence of breast cancer in industrialized countries would fall from 6.3 per 100 to 2.7 per 100 if women had family sizes and breastfeeding patterns typical of developing countries.

The study is also noteworthy because, "This is the first [study] to sort out the risk reduction from having kids versus the reduction from breastfeeding," explains Cindy Pearson, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based National Women's Health Network (NWHN), an advocacy group. (Giving birth confers to mothers a lifetime risk reduction of 7 percent per birth.)

If each woman in the U.S. breastfed each of her two children for six months longer than she does now, Beral and her colleagues conclude, the number of new breast cancer cases in the U.S. could be reduced by more than 7,500 each year. "Even a little, little bit [of increase] has an effect," Beral believes. "It's not trivial." The U.S. breast cancer rates are some of the highest in the world, with 190,000 new cases diagnosed each year, and breastfeeding rates, while improving, are notoriously low.
The problem, as many nursing mothers will tell you, is that breastfeeding in the U.S. is particularly difficult. While most industrialized countries offer mandatory paid maternity leave, the U.S. does not. "And the challenge of combining working and breastfeeding is beyond what many mothers are willing to take on," explains Amy Spangler, MN, IBLCLC, chair of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, an umbrella organization that promotes breastfeeding.




Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009