Breast X-rays — mammograms — are a critical part of preventive health care for every woman. For NotMoms, the test is essential. I was reminded of this fact during my most recent mammogram. I’d known about this statistic for years.
Long before Samantha talked about it in Season 6 of Sex & the City (Her best line: “Since when did kids become the get out of cancer free card?”), I’d learned that women without children have a higher risk of breast cancer than Moms because I shared a workplace with Catholic nuns.
Changes undergone by the body during pregnancy lower estrogen levels, and studies show estrogen related to the development of breast cancer. A lower estrogen level, while problematic in other ways, can be protective against The Big C. Health professionals and researchers have known since the 1700s that nuns were far more likely than other groups of women to contract the disease. Reinforcing that early revelation, later studies have confirmed NotMoms’ higher risk.
From 1996 to 2001, British women age 50 and older were invited to participate in an investigation of how various reproductive and lifestyle factors affect women’s health. Labeled the “Million Women Study,” it continues to provide valuable information, most recently in December 2012.
The Million Women study found that pregnancy in itself may not be the only naturally protective measure against breast cancer. Other findings included:
“Having a first baby at a young age is protective, as is late onset of puberty and early menopause. Taller and heavier women are at greater risk. But the biggest protective factors are the number of children and years of breastfeeding. A woman has a 7% decreased risk of breast cancer per birth and her risk drops by a further 4% for every year of breastfeeding.”
If The Powers That Be want us to spread the news by word of mouth, I’m happy to oblige. This important information hasn’t gained nearly as much attention as the fact that chances of breast cancer almost double if a woman has had a close relative (mother, sister or daughter) diagnosed with the disease.
The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health recommends that beginning at age 40, every woman should get a mammogram every 1 to 2 years. It’s not the most fun procedure, but it doesn’t really hurt. And, if an abnormality IS discovered, early detection means treatment can start before the disease spreads.
YOU are your greatest responsibility. Don’t neglect you.
(Image Credit: AFP/Getty Images)