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No link found between breast-feeding and cancer prevention. In contrast to previous studies elsewhere, a new report by the BU School of Medicine suggests that breast-feeding offers women little or no protection against breast cancer. The study found that both women who breast-fed and those who did not had a similar risk of developing the disease.

"Our study didn't support the hypothesis that lactation reduces the risk of breast cancer," says lead researcher Patricia Coogan, assistant professor of epidemiology. "Still, because breast milk is easier for infants to digest and is less expensive than formula and provides natural antibodies, it should be encouraged."

Earlier studies had suggested that lactation cut the risk of breast cancer because high levels of estrogen are thought to raise the risk of the cancer and when women lactate, they do not ovulate, so their estrogen levels are lower.

Additionally, Coogan found breast cancer risk was not related to the length of breast-feeding the first child, the number of children breast-fed, or the women's age when they first breast-fed.

"We found little evidence that either long durations or repeated episodes of lactation reduced breast cancer risk either among premenopausal or postmenopausal women," Coogan notes. Earlier studies had found differences in breast cancer risk and breast-feeding patterns between these two groups of women, the study authors point out.

The study appeared in the September 15 issue of the journal Cancer.

First, do no harm. School of Public Health researchers have shown that contrary to prevailing opinion, the conversion of hospitals from nonprofit to for-profit status has not had an appreciably negative impact on their communities, such as sharply higher prices or loss of charity care or emergency room services.

Associate Professor of Health Services Gary Young and SPH research analyst Kamal Desai examined 43 hospital conversions between 1981 and 1995 in California, Florida, and Texas.

"Our results showed that on average, hospitals converted to for-profits do not close down traditionally unprofitable services such as emergency rooms, neonatal units, or burn centers," says Desai.

According to Young, some evidence suggested that conversion would lead to faster price growth over the short term, but those increases may be based primarily on costs associated with capital investment.

"We did see that over the long term, price growth reverses," says Young. "Converted hospitals may eventually operate more efficiently by using the enhanced financial and managerial resources that supposedly come with joining a for-profit organization."

Kamal and Young note that it's important for communities facing hospital conversion to understand that there are some benefits, such as the for-profit company paying local property taxes. In addition, for-profit conversion has helped some previously nonprofit hospitals remain open. "These are institutions that might otherwise have closed due to financial difficulty," says Desai.

The researchers feel that legislative efforts to protect community hospitals from conversion may not always be appropriate. "Legislators should remain open-minded about conversion, and they should really help their communities carefully weigh the pros and cons associated with it," said Young.

The study appears in the September/October 1999 issue of Health Affairs.

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
Office of University Relations