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Breast Cancer: Danish Study

Editor   |   April 01, 1997

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a Danish abortion study by Melbye et al. The lead author told the Wall Street Journal: “I think this settles it definitely. There is no overall increased risk of breast cancer for the average woman who has an abortion.” In an accompanying editorial an official of the National Cancer Institute stated, “The clear central finding is that there is no overall risk.” The pro-abortion media picked up this description of the study and headlined it across this nation and the world. It was exactly what they wanted to hear, and they swallowed these comments without any attempt to evaluate whether or not they were valid.

We now have an exhaustive study of this research article by the man who is probably the most qualified judge of the validity of such studies in the world, Dr. Joel Brind. Let’s mention a few obvious problems.

Of the 1.5 million women studied, 1.2 million had neither any exposure to induced abortion nor have developed breast cancer.

  • Of the 281,000 women who did have an induced abortion, most are still too young to have developed breast cancer, and some are still teenagers.
  • Of the 10,000 women who have developed breast cancer, most are too old to have their abortion histories on record, as the Danish Registry only goes back to 1973, about when abortion was legalized. At that time the oldest women were already 38 years old.
  • Of the 1,338 women who had abortions and did develop breast cancer, 81% had their abortion recorded at age 30 or over, and 54% at age 35 or over. As we know, by far, most abortions are done on younger women. The women younger than 30 years who developed breast cancer are only listed as having breast cancer without any record of having had abortions. Other equally important data is omitted or de-emphasized. There were a few women who had abortions as teenagers who had already developed breast cancer, and they had a 29% increased risk, but they were too few in number to be statistically significant.
  • The study did demonstrate a statistically significant trend of a 3% risk increase for each additional week of gestation before abortion. This rose to an 89% increased risk for abortions after 18 weeks. Interestingly, this finding in the study was not mentioned in the study’s “conclusions”.
  • Much data was missing from the paper, particularly the effect of other independent variables.
  • Previous studies confirming a relationship between abortion and breast cancer are attacked or misrepresented.
  • There is an egregious distortion of the age distribution of abortion clients.
  • The author falsely misrepresents other medical studies, saying that his “result” is very much in line with the results of previous retrospective cohort studies. Actually, three of the four such studies he cites are entirely irrelevant. Two of these concern only miscarriages, and the third almost entirely so while not presenting any data relating specifically to induced abortion.
  • The author attacks the Brind meta-analysis, which was published last fall, as unreliable due to “response bias”. Such criticism has been thoroughly discredited in a number of major studies. He criticizes Brind’s meta-analysis as being from 30 studies, when in fact it analyzed the entire world literature of more than twice that number.

All of the above may become a bit confusing. Truly this is a field where those without in-depth expertise in statistical medical analyses should tread very lightly. Brind has such expertise and rather thoroughly demolishes the Melbye study as being essentially invalid and drawing invalid conclusions. For those of you who want more specific detail, Dr. Brind’’s tightly reasoned critique is available for $5.00 through Americans United for Life, 343 S. Dearborn St., Suite 1804, Chicago, IL 60604. Phone (312) 786-9494.&127

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