Thursday, April 06, 2006

Mystery of 'nuns' disease' (The Star Phoenix)

OTTAWA -- Breast cancer used to be known as "nuns' disease." As far back as the 14th century, the disease affected nuns more than any other group of medieval women. Studies since have continued to confirm high rates among nuns. The breast cancer rate in 19th-century nuns was 6.3 per cent -- about the same as it is today among Western women. In 1968, a U.S. National Cancer Institute study of 31,658 nuns from 41 religious orders found dramatically elevated levels of breast cancer in the women.

Why? Numerous researchers say it's because the nuns did not give birth or breastfeed. Today the breast cancer rate in nuns mirrors the rate in modern women, who frequently delay or forgo childbirth and infrequently choose to breastfeed their babies.

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