Postpartum involution and cancer: An opportunity for targeted breast cancer prevention and treatments?

Virginia F. Borges, Traci R. Lyons, Doris Germain, Pepper Schedin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Childbirth at any age confers a transient increased risk for breast cancer in the first decade postpartum and this window of adverse effect extends over two decades in women with late-age first childbirth (>35 years of age). Crossover to the protective effect of pregnancy is dependent on age at first pregnancy, with young mothers receiving the most benefit. Furthermore, breast cancer diagnosis during the 5- to 10-year postpartum window associates with high risk for subsequent metastatic disease. Notably, lactation has been shown to be protective against breast cancer incidence overall, with varying degrees of protection by race, multiparity, and lifetime duration of lactation. An effect for lactation on breast cancer outcome after diagnosis has not been described. We discuss the most recent data and mechanistic insights underlying these epidemiologic findings. Postpartum involution of the breast has been identified as a key mediator of the increased risk for metastasis in women diagnosed within 5–10 years of a completed pregnancy. During breast involution, immune avoidance, increased lymphatic network, extracellular matrix remodeling, and increased seeding to the liver and lymph node work as interconnected pathways, leading to the adverse effect of a postpartum diagnosis. We al discuss a novel mechanism underlying the protective effect of breastfeeding. Collectively, these mechanistic insights offer potential therapeutic avenues for the prevention and/or improved treatment of postpartum breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1790-1798
Number of pages9
JournalCancer Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 2020


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