Research Article| Volume 153, ISSUE 1, P116-122, April 2019

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Breastfeeding factors and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer

Published:January 25, 2019DOI:


      • Breastfeeding for as few as 3 months – the duration of a maternity leave – is associated with reduced ovarian cancer risk.
      • This association decreases over time but persists for more than 30 years.
      • Longer duration, greater number of offspring nursed, and earlier age at first breastfeeding associate with reduced risk.
      • This association is similar in magnitude and duration to that observed for oral contraceptive use and bearing children.



      Previous studies suggest that breastfeeding reduces epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) risk. However, the effects of age, timing and episode details on the EOC-breastfeeding relationship have not been examined. The objective of this study was to examine the association between breastfeeding factors and epithelial ovarian cancer.


      We examined breastfeeding factors among parous women in a population-based, case-control study conducted in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York from 2003 to 2008. We compared 689 incident EOC cases to 1572 community controls. Multivariable unconditional logistic regression was used to calculate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) associated with breastfeeding patterns adjusting for potential confounders.


      Compared to never breastfeeding, breastfeeding any offspring was associated with a 30% reduction in EOC risk (OR = 0.70; 95%CI = 0.58–0.85). That association lasted more than 30 years (OR = 0.69, 95%CI = 0.53–0.88). An average breastfeeding episode of 3 months was also associated with reduced risk (OR = 0.73, 95%CI = 0.58–0.80). A greater number of breastfeeding episodes was associated with greater risk reduction (OR = 0.78, 95%CI = 0.64–0.96 and OR = 0.49, 95%CI = 0.36–0.68 1–2 and 3+ episodes, respectively, compared to never breastfed, trend p = 0.01). Longer breastfeeding duration was also associated with reduced risk (OR = 0.75 and 0.62 for less than and greater than 1-year total duration, respectively, compared to never breastfed). An earlier age at first breastfeeding was further associated with increased protection (OR = 0.50–0.80, for first episode at age <25, 25–29, and 30+, respectively, trend p = 0.001).


      Breastfeeding for as few as 3 months is associated with reduced EOC risk. Although this association decreases over time, it persists for more than 30 years. Longer cumulative duration, increasing number of breastfeeding episodes, and earlier age at first breastfeeding episode are each associated with increased benefit.


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