Abortion-breast cancer link: real or not?

Abortion-breast cancer link: real or not?

Predictably, a new study that claims that there is no link between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer is all over the media, despite the fact that the mainstream media has been suppressing opposing evidence for years.

Now, those who say there is a link are saying that the study is flawed.

“We call on journalists to challenge Michels et al. to conduct a proper study that allows sufficient follow-up time between exposure to abortion and the development of breast cancer,” said Karen Malec, president of the Coalition [on Abortion/Breast Cancer].

At least four other studies in recent years have been criticized for the same reason.


The study, Michels et al. 2007, focused on the debated breast cancer risk - whether abortion leaves women with an increased number of cancer-vulnerable breast lobules. It did not focus on the recognized breast cancer risk - the loss of the protective effect of a full term pregnancy.

“Even the NCI agrees that increased childbearing, starting at an early age, protects women from breast cancer,” said Malec. “Legislators have a moral obligation to require abortion providers to inform expectant mothers that if they have an abortion, their breast cancer risk will be higher than it would be if they have a baby. That’s settled science.”

The pro-life group points out that if this is the fourth such study trying to disprove the link, then the researchers must continue to doubt previous research, especially if they’re willing to keep spending millions on it.

And the mass media, like the Boston Globe, continue to report only half the story.

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  • As a medical physicist, I can state one simple observation. Back in the stone age, when I began my career, a woman under 40 with breast cancer was a rarity.

    Now women under 40 with breast cancer is not at all an unusual finding.

    Something has happened to women to increase their risk of disease. Greater diligence and awareness have caused many to seek medical attention sooner, and this accounts for some, but to me, abortion or oral contraceptives (or both combined) will be to our grandchildren’s generation what smoking was to ours; an overlooked, swept under the rug public health disaster. The “race for the cure” for all the good it does, misplaces the focus. It should be the “race for the cause” of a disease that thankfully is less fatal than it once was but still effects 1 out of 7 women.

    I do not think that there is a linear cause and effect. But there is an effect none the less in a particular woman who has an abortion at a particular time in her life, a long history of steroidal contraception (10 to 15 years on the pill is not at all unusual) or both.

    Just a perception from the cancer trenches from a guy with 20+ years in the field. Something is going on.

  • I think that any link between breast cancer and abortion is really a moot point in the abortion debate.  Abortion is wrong because it is murder, not because it increases the mother’s chance of developing cancer.

    Is it possible that there are biased scientists who want to cover it up.  But it is also entirely possible that the initial study that suggested such a link between abortion and cancermay very well be wrong. 

    Pro-lifers really need to let this one go.  It makes us look out of touch with modern science and really isn’t relevant when debating the morality of abortion.

  • Matt,

    Maybe it’s a moot point to you. Not so moot to women who are potentially at risk for breast cancer.

    Not everything in the pro-life movement must be geared toward the goal of ending abortion. Secondary goals are important too. And helping women understand the implications of their “choice” for their future health and well-being is a worthwhile end in itself.

    In fact, your comment seems to vindicate the claim that pro-lifers only care about babies and not about mothers.

    When the mainstream media loses its bias and can be trusted to report science fairly (and when scientists can be trusted to produce unbiased studies), then I’ll trust them to get it right.

  • Melanie,

    I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t matter to women in matters of health.  I simply stated that this supposed link “isn’t relevant when debating the morality of abortion.” I was not saying that any such link was entirely meanless, but only meaningless in defending our position when debating with pro-abortion individuals.

    I say that because abortion is wrong irregardless of whether or not it predisposes you to cancer.  It’s wrong because it ends a life.  I think that in the context of such a debate it should be ignored.

    I don’t doubt bias is possible in this study, but do you really think scientists and the mainstream media would hide a link between breast cancer and abortion when they do not deny that most HIV cases in the US are among men who have sex with men? As a scientist myself, I think not.  They don’t advertise it but they don’t deny it either. That doesn’t mean either side made errors though.  Scientific studies can be flawed deliberately or accidentally.

  • My wife and I recently sifted through book after book and pamphlet after pamphlet trying to learn NFP.  I was surprised to find a large section in virtually every publication I read talking about the dangers associated with postponing pregnancy because of the need of a woman’s body to mature. To be brief, I’ve read that if a woman waits or does not become pregnant, then parts of her body do not develop and mature properly.  These ‘parts’ become susceptible to things like cancer because in their immature stage they simply provide a better environment for cancer to develop.  As far as I know, that’s an established fact.

  • Dom,

    There is no link between abortion and breast cancer.  The evidence doesn’t support it.

    I wouldn’t be surprised – however – if there was a connection between birth control pills and breast cancer.  Birth control pills affect women’s breast development.  Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the metabolites thereof – pissed into the sewers and polluting the groundwater – affect *everyone*.

    We may propose that there exists an increased risk of breast cancer among women who practice birth control – a testable hypothesis.  If there is an increased likelihood of abortions among women practicing birth control (i.e. after their birth control “fails”), then your proposed “link” would “appear” despite any causal relationship.

    As the research stands at this time, there is no causal link between abortion and breast cancer, and there is no physiological reason to think there would be.

  • Hasn’t there been a drop in incidents of breast cancer since hormone replacement therapy (HRT), to ‘treat’ menopause was scaled back? 

    If anything, that says to me that the hormones in HRT and in contraceptions are related and therefore the long-term effects of contraceptions may be an increased risk of breast cancer.