Could Having More Kids Put You at Risk for Breast Cancer?

Sure, having lots of kids might get you a reality TV show (Michelle Duggar! Jon & Kate! The Table for 12 Hayes family!). But a new study shows it also may put you at higher risk for a rare but aggressive form of breast cancer.

"Triple-negative" breast cancer was found to occur 1.5 times more often in women who birthed three or more babies than in women who had just one child. Women who’d never given birth fared better still, although their risk was higher for the most common type of breast cancer.

The findings, from a study led by Amanda Phipps, Ph.D., at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, were surprising because it's widely known that giving birth actually lowers a woman’s overall risk of breast cancer. The research on the triple-negative cancer (meaning it doesn't activate any of the genes associated with the three types of hormone receptors in the breast) suggests that some women’s breast tissue responds differently to the hormonal changes of pregnancy.

The study was based on data from the Women’s Health Initiative, with researchers analyzing reproductive histories of about 150,000 women. Among those, more than 300 went on to develop triple-negative breast cancer. This study is one of the largest done to date on the connection between reproduction and triple-negative breast cancer, which accounts for just 10 to 20 percent of all breast cancers.

The news sounds startling, but moms of many don’t need to hurry off to their health care provider. “While this study adds to our knowledge base, it should not change women's approaches to breast cancer screening," Phipps said in a statement. “More research is needed to better understand the causes of the most aggressive and lethal forms of breast cancer.”

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