From the Jan/Feb 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
The public health establishment and the abortion industry know all about it, but they don’t tell the women who need to know.
Consider the following dialogue:
Q: “So in other words, a woman who finds herself pregnant at age 15 will have a higher breast cancer risk if she chooses to abort that pregnancy than if she carries the pregnancy to term, correct?”
A: “Probably, yes.”
The only thing surprising about this matter-of-fact admission is that it was made by a scientist appearing under oath as a witness for a group of abortionists, for the purpose of making the case against the abortion-breast cancer (ABC) link!
The reason the witness-Dr. Lynn Rosenberg of Boston University School of Medicine- found the ABC link undeniable was that the cross-examination did not allow her to put it in her own words. When such experts-including, unfortunately, those who represent agencies such as our federal National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Cancer Society (ACS)-do put it in their own words, they talk about a woman who chooses abortion not getting the protective effect of a full-term pregnancy. It’s as if a pregnant woman has the option of never having gotten pregnant!
In fact, overwhelming published evidence over the past 40 years indicates that it is even worse: In addition to abolishing a full-term pregnancy’s protective effect against breast cancer, abortion adds further to a woman’s breast cancer risk, leaving it higher than it would have been had she not gotten pregnant at all.
Worth the Risk?
Why does abortion have any influence over a woman’s future risk of contracting breast cancer? Pregnancy prepares a baby for birth and also prepares the mother’s breasts to feed the baby after birth.
Almost immediately after conception, a mother’s ovaries begin secreting ever increasing quantities of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen’s job is to make the cells in the breasts proliferate, so that the breasts will become large enough to feed the baby after birth. It is not until the third trimester-until about 32 weeks gestation-that other hormones make these cells differentiate into milk-producing tissues. If this process is interrupted by abortion (or even live birth) before differentiation takes place, a woman is left with more cancer-vulnerable cells in her breasts than were there before she became pregnant. This translates into a higher risk of breast cancer later in life.
Importantly, most pregnancies that end in spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) do so because of inadequate hormonal secretion by the ovaries. Consequently, there is no substantial overexposure to growth-promoting estrogen, and no increase in the risk of breast cancer.
This fact has provided substantial grist for the denial mill of mainstream sources of public health information. For example, in its comprehensive review of the ABC link in 1997, ACS concluded that a link between “breast cancer and either spontaneous or induced abortion is inconclusive.” Only by diluting abortion’s effect, through the inclusion of miscarriages, can such an inconclusive conclusion be drawn.
The “political incorrectness” of the ABC link has led to even more curious phenomena, such as the NCI’s disparagement of the research it commissioned for the specific purpose of investigating the ABC link. In 1994, Dr. Janet Daling and colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, published their results in the NCI’s own journal. They reported, in brief:
A 50 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer before age 45 among women who had one or more induced abortions;
An 80 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer among women who had any abortions and who also had any family history of breast cancer;
A more than 100 percent risk among women who had any abortions before age 18 or after age 30;
An incalculably high-risk increase among women who had an abortion before age 18 and who also had any family history of the disease.
Such a clear indictment of abortion as a breast cancer risk factor- especially by a “strongly pro-choice” research team-could only be published by the NCI along with an editorial which mischaracterized the results as “far from conclusive,” and likely flawed by something called “reporting bias.”
Reporting bias refers to a hypothetical difference in the veracity of breast cancer patients, compared to healthy women. If-the theory goes-breast cancer patients are more likely to admit previous abortions, then abortion will appear to be more common among women who got breast cancer than among those who didn’t, resulting in an apparent (but artificial) risk increase. While reporting bias constitutes a valid hypothesis worthy of scientific testing, it has been put to the test repeatedly and found to be nonexistent in ABC research. Daling et al. tested for it rigorously and reported its absence in their ABC paper, but one would never guess that from the editorial. In fact, the only study which claimed to report direct evidence of reporting bias relied on the preposterous assumption that breast cancer patients in Sweden had “over-reported” abortions-i.e., claimed to have had abortions that never took place! This was based on the presumption that the computerized records in Sweden were infallible. Meanwhile, this claim of “overreporting” of abortions was eventually (and quietly) retracted in 1998 by the World Health Organization research team that had originally made the claim back in 1991.
Of course, no one denies that-all other things being equal-it is better to rely on medical records established at the time of abortion, rather than upon interviewing breast cancer patients many years later. But then, it is most curious that the NCI and others who would use this argument to dismiss all the interview-based studies, conveniently omit the one American study based on medical records-and published in 1989-that reported a 90 percent increase in breast cancer risk with abortion! Instead, they have largely relied on a 1997 Danish study based on the medical records of all 1.5 million women born in Denmark between 1935 and 1978, which reported “no overall effect of abortion” on breast cancer risk.
However, the Danish study was so seriously flawed as to render its results entirely invalid. For example, the study used medical records of abortions dating back only to 1973, the year-the study implied-in which elective abortion was legalized in Denmark. But elective abortion was legalized in Denmark back in 1939, and 60,000 women in the study-who had legal abortions on record-were misclassified as not having had an abortion! Yet to this day, the NCI and other agencies still rely on the Danish study as more or less definitive in showing that, overall, abortion does not raise breast cancer risk.
But attitudes are finally beginning to change. The court testimony cited at the beginning of this article, for example, only recently transpired (November 1999). In February 2000, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)-arguably the most influential medical journal in the world- listed abortion as a risk factor for breast cancer in its review of breast cancer risk. The NEJM published and championed the Danish study only three years ago. Also in 2000, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG), the very agency that sets the standards of care for abortion practitioners in the UK, validated the evidence for the ABC link. Specifically, the March 2000 edition of RCOG’s triennially revised “Evidence-based guideline no. 7: the care of women requesting induced abortion” reviews our own “comprehensive review and meta-analysis” of the worldwide ABC literature, which was published in the British Medical Association’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The RCOG guideline restates our summary finding of a significant, overall 30 percent increased risk of breast cancer with abortion. Importantly, it also states that our review was “carefully conducted” and comments that “the Brind paper had no major methodological shortcomings and could not be disregarded.”
As of this writing, the ABC link has been supported by 13 out of 15 epidemiological studies in the United States (28 out of 37 worldwide). The biological basis of the ABC link was even demonstrated experimentally in laboratory rats 20 years ago.
If scientific rigor does not demand that such overwhelming evidence constitutes conclusive proof, does not any reasonable standard of medical ethics-if not common decency- demand that women considering abortion be informed about the evidence linking this elective surgical procedure to a life-threatening disease?
Dr. Joel Brind is a professor of biology and endocrinology at Baruch College of the City University of NY. He has appeared on CNN, CBS, ABC, CBC, and NPR, and has been featured in news articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report . His research has appeared in prominent medical journals.
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