Aggressive Breast Cancer Linked To Timing Of Childbirth: Study

12/14/2012 10:55 am ET | Updated Dec 14, 2012

Those bright eyes and chubby cheeks may be hard to resist, but researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have good reason to believe you should.

In a study published online in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, researchers found that the interval between starting menstruation and first giving birth is inversely associated with the risk of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), a subtype of the disease that does not depend on hormones such as estrogen to grow and spread, and therefore does not respond to hormone-blocking drugs such as Tamoxifen. To put it plainly, women who wait at least 15 years after their first menstrual period to give birth to their first child may reduce their risk of the aggressive form of breast cancer by up to 60 percent, the report states.

It's a finding that researchers say African-American women want to consider especially, since they experience disproportionately high rates of triple-negative disease.

In fact, study author Christopher I. Li, M.D. says that his findings may actually explain why black women tend to develop triple-negative breast cancer more often than other groups. African-American women are more likely to start having children at a younger age and are less likely to breast-feed, Li said, pointing to several previous studies that have suggested that breast-feeding provides a protective effect against triple-negative disease.

Previous studies have also countered Li's latest claim, however, showing that waiting to have children may actually increase your breast cancer risk. But, like Li, researchers note that the type of breast cancer key.

The risk of the most common subtype of breast cancer, ER positive, for example, has proven to be lower among women who've had a full-term pregnancy and have breast-fed. The reason, researchers believe, is that the hormones associated with pregnancy induce certain changes in the cellular structure of the breast that make the tissue less susceptible to this type of cancer.

And while prevention trumps having to fight off triple negative disease, researchers honed in on two successful ways to do it this year. In October, scientists pinpointed a new compound created from a rich source in vegetables, including broccoli and brussel sprouts, to combat TNBC, while researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York discovered that a certain form of smallpox vaccine was able to kill 90 percent of cancer cells in four days of treatment.

Here's a look at 7 more breakthroughs in breast cancer research over the last year, with high stakes for the African-American women and men.

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7 Breast Cancer Breakthroughs Of 2012

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