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Does Abortion Increase Breast Cancer? The Debate Heats Up

JCWillke   |   April 01, 2003

All of a sudden, the relation of abortion to breast cancer is back in the limelight. After a number of years of slowly increasing acceptance of the relationship of induced abortion to breast cancer, the American Cancer Institute has, in effect, thrown down the gauntlet. On its website, it had admitted that there might be a relationship but, in late February, a major meeting of “scientists” denied this. Until recently, the National Cancer Institute’s website had said that there was no evidence linking abortion and breast cancer. In late November, however, it revised its website to say, “the evidence is inconclusive.” Then came this workshop. By a vote of 99 to 1, the attendees claimed that scientific evidence does not support the notion that having an abortion increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer later in life.

The Evidence Had Accumulated
In brief, biological evidence and 28 out of 37 international studies, done since 1957, have demonstrated a relationship of induced abortion with breast cancer. Thirteen of 15 studies in the US have confirmed such a link. It is interesting that many of these studies were funded by the National Cancer Institute. Let’s look at two landmark studies, the first by Dr. H. Howe in 1999. Using New York state official Health Department records, he found that aborting a woman’s first pregnancy was associated with a 1.7 times increased risk of breast cancer under age 40. If she aborted her second or third pregnancy, her risk was increased four fold. Worldwide attention was focused on the second study in 1994 by Dr. Janet Daling. She has a reputation, worldwide, as an accomplished and highly respected epidemiologist. She found that an induced abortion increased the risk of breast cancer before age 45 by 50%. If done before age 18, it increased by 150%. If done after age 30, it increased by 110%. If she had a Womenfamily member with breast cancer and aborted after age 30, her risk was increased by 270%. All 12 women in her study with such a family member, who aborted before age 18, got breast cancer before age 45.

It seemed that the issue was all but settled after Dr. Joel Brind published a meta analysis in 1996 of the 28 legitimate studies available. His conclusion was that there was a significant independent risk for breast cancer associated with induced abortion. The reaction to these and other studies has been convincing to many people, including legislators who, in several states, have passed laws to require the abortionist to warn the prospective abortive client that this will increase her risk of breast cancer.

National Cancer Institute
This federally funded national institute has had an obvious reluctance to admit that there could be any relationship. This culminated in a recent seminar, which was publicized to be an open, interdisciplinary investigation, discussion and debate of both sides of the issue. Sadly, this did not happen. The invitations were carefully selected and a committed pro-abortion staff chaired the conference. There was essentially no discussion and no debate. Finally, there was a prearranged conclusion, which was voted on soon after the meeting began and overwhelmingly passed.

Dr. Joel Brind has become internationally known for his critical investigation and evaluation of various epidemiologic studies in this field. He has written and lectured extensively and authored the meta analysis above. Clearly, he was the authority, quite capable and willing to represent the side advocating a link. He was not invited to this conference. Notified by government officials, he appealed this, and an invitation was extended. He was not, however, given any platform time to present the likely association viewpoint. His only opportunity to speak was from the floor when he was recognized several times. Dr. Janet Daling, the toweringly authoritative researcher, was also not asked to speak.

The make up of those invited was interesting – one-third of them were clinical practitioners, a second-third were research scientists, but neither of these two groups brought skilled knowledge of this field. Of the one-third who were epidemiologists, only half had been involved in research on breast cancer. Therefore, of the hundred, 16 were knowledgeable. This included a number of researchers who had done studies that clearly showed an abortion/breast cancer connection. None of them spoke up to defend Dr. Brind’s position. I and others have asked why. The answer is one that they would not give publicly. The fact of the matter is that epidemiologic researchers exist professionally by virtue of the monetary grants they get for their research. Pro-abortion people have almost total control of such grants. Several of these researchers have, in the past, spoken up in defending the abortion/breast cancer link. Sadly, as everyone within that fraternity knows, they have been burned and have received no more grants. This appears to be the real reason why none of them spoke up to defend this obvious link, even though their published studies have shown it.

Let’s remember, the Bush appointees at the very top, who are favorable toward open discussion, thought a fair meeting had been arranged. Sadly, it was not. There are only one-and-a-half years left of President Bush’s term – not much time in which to request and secure a grant. If he’s not reelected and a pro-abortion Democrat is our next president, we will see a total reversal of today’s administration policies back to an aggressive pro-abortion stand. Any hope for research funding for those who have spoken up with Dr. Brind would then be gone.

The Danish Study
Mention must be made of a study by Melbye, et al, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997. In it, Professor Melbye claimed that an extensive investigation done in Denmark showed no connection between induced abortion and breast cancer. Melbye was one of the chief speakers at this meeting and maintained this position. However, the Melbye study was fatally flawed. It listed abortion being legalized in Denmark in 1973. Actually, abortion was legalized in 1939. Between those 34 years, 60,000 women were aborted. But, in his study, all women before 1973 were listed as non-aborters. Further, one-fourth of women in his study were younger than 25 years and were too young to have cancer. However, even with this gross imbalance, his study showed an increased relative risk of almost 50%, but he did not report this in his conclusions.

Some Good News
Everyone in the meeting agreed that pregnancy was “protective” against breast cancer. They agreed that early pregnancy was more protective than late pregnancy. That was a given. Even if this was all that was admitted, it should be evident that a partial pregnancy, i.e. aborted at three months, means that she is pregnant fewer months in her lifetime and, therefore, would have less protection against breast cancer than if she were pregnant for a full nine months. The basic physiologic fact that the breast cells producing milk do not fully mature until late pregnancy, and that when mature they are more resistant to cancer, was completely ignored at the conference. Finally, the program had assigned a fairly lengthy time at the end for open discussion. The meeting, however, was abruptly recessed, eliminating that opportunity. The National Cancer Institute promptly issued its report claiming no connection. They did not ask for, but in the end grudgingly accepted a minority report publicly offered by Dr. Joel Brind. Dr. Brind’s report is available on our web site, (click here to view the report) or by contacting our office.

Those who are concerned about the breast cancer/abortion link have spoken out repeatedly on this issue. They are the Coalition on Abortion & Breast Cancer. Its president, Karen Malec, has accused the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of suppressing the truth about research exploring the link. “The NCI is conducting a shameless campaign to conceal the truth about research, paid for by US taxpayers. This is not the first time that the NCI has lied to women,” she said. “Its website, three years ago, stated that only animal research had provided a basis for this relationship, although, at the time, 26 of 32 studies conducted on human women internationally had clearly reported risk elevations by then.” Congressman Tom Coburn publicly stated that the agency has deceived the public about research and that its website fact sheet “was not scientifically valid – rather, it was a political statement.” Other voices were also accusatory. Sandy Rios, President of Concerned Women for America, stated, “The NCI has decided that protecting women’s health is less important than avoiding politically sensitive topics. They should be ashamed. What was supposed to be a colloquium among scientists about the link, turned into a whitewash. The NCI panelists dismissed the best research on the subject, including research commissioned by the NCI itself. They did this on the patronizing claim that women cannot be expected to tell the truth about their own medical history.” This type of reliance on “recall bias” had been thoroughly discounted by a number of studies. “The patent dishonesty of the NCI’s report on
this subject raises real doubts about the institute’s credibility,” Rios concluded. “The NCI should be above politics, not a factory for junk science.”

I have practiced medicine and obstetrics for forty years and have made it a point to keep abreast of this subject. I have read all of the papers noted above and have published and lectured on this subject. I bow to the authority of Dr. Brind, whose professional ability and integrity I admire, but I also feel that I have an ability to judge this issue. Allow me to suggest that this almost frantic effort by the pro-abortion industry will not close the door on this issue. The previously published scientific studies speak for themselves, political statements to the contrary. To those pro-lifers who read this, do not be discouraged. There is a link and it is proven. It is obvious that women should be warned about this. Shame on those professionals who disregard the health and well being of women in order to curry favor with political patrons and get research grants. The truth will win out.

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