A full-term pregnancy at an early age is one of the most effective ways to reduce the lifetime risk of breast cancer, according to research pathologist Irma H. Russo, M.D., of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. A number of studies around the world have established that a full-term pregnancy by age 20 reduces breast cancer risk by half.
Previous studies by Russo and colleagues suggest that breast cells reach full maturity--a process called differentiation--only after a full-term pregnancy. Once this process is complete, the cells are less vulnerable to cancer-causing changes. An early pregnancy confers the strongest protection by limiting the time breast cells remain immature.
"A high-susceptibility or high-risk window exists early in life, between the start of ovarian function and the first pregnancy," explained Russo. "During this period, the mammary gland has continuously varying characteristics influenced by ovarian and pituitary hormones. These traits change during pregnancy under the influence of embryonic and placental hormones."
Colleen Kirsch | EurekAlert!
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