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National Cancer Institute challenged over new abortion-breast cancer stance

WASHINGTON (BP)–The National Cancer Institute is telling women once again there is no connection between abortion and breast cancer, but skeptics still aren’t buying it.

The denial of a link between abortion and breast cancer was restored to a fact sheet on the NCI’s Internet site March 21. The report on “Abortion, Miscarriage and Breast Cancer Risk” says a late February workshop convened by the NCI determined “that having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”

The NCI, a division of the National Institutes of Health, had announced March 4 two of its boards unanimously accepted the findings of the workshop.

Joel Brind, a leading researcher on the subject and a participant at the workshop, disagreed. He issued a minority report pointing out his “partial disagreement” with the workshop’s findings. He “remain[s] convinced that the weight of available evidence suggests a real, independent positive association between induced abortion and breast cancer risk,” Brind said. Of 38 epidemiological studies through last year, 29 have demonstrated breast cancer risks, he said.

The workshop was handicapped by time constraints that prevented a “thorough vetting of the scientific data,” said Brind, president of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute and a human biology professor at Baruch College of City University of New York. The only presentations at the workshop were by researchers who rejected an abortion-cancer link, he said.

NCI’s website had contained a fact sheet in recent years saying there was no abortion-breast cancer link, but the fact sheet was altered last year to say there were inconsistent findings. NCI organized the workshop to address the subject.

In its revised fact sheet, the NCI says findings on a connection between abortion and breast-cancer risk were inconsistent until the mid-1990s. “Most of these studies, however, were flawed in a number of ways that can lead to unreliable results,” the fact sheet says. More recent studies have been designed better, according to the fact sheet. “The newer studies consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk,” it says.

The report from the Feb. 24-26 Early Reproductive Events and Breast Cancer Workshop was made to the NCI boards March 3. In its findings, the report said, “Induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk.”

The report also found an early age for a woman’s initial full-term birth is associated with a “lifetime decrease in breast cancer risk.” It found an increasing number of births for a woman is connected to a “long-term risk reduction” for breast cancer. A woman who has never given birth has about the same risk for breast cancer as a woman whose first full-term birth is around the age of 30, according to the report.

Karen Malec, president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, decried the workshop report, saying, “Women aren’t stupid. We can connect the dots. If a full-term pregnancy protects against breast cancer and childlessness raises risk, then logically an abortion will raise risk.”

The NCI, American Cancer Society and other organizations “know that if they ever admit to a relationship between abortion and breast cancer, then they’ll have to face the wrath of women,” Malec said. “The NCI and other cancer groups are only postponing the day when they will have to answer for their misconduct.”

The Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer and others contend abortion not only can place a woman at risk for breast cancer by delaying child bearing but by the changes it produces in her breast cells.

A woman who has never been pregnant has a “network of primitive, immature and cancer-vulnerable breast cells,” according to the ABC Coalition’s Internet site. These breast cells, plus her normal ones, multiply greatly when she becomes pregnant, the site reports. At about 32 weeks gestation, however, cell multiplication concludes, and a process known as “differentiation” occurs, transforming the cells into “milk-producing tissue,” according to the website.

“If the pregnancy is aborted, the woman is left with more undifferentiated — and therefore cancer-vulnerable cells — than she had before she was pregnant,” the ABC Coalition’s site says. “On the other hand, a full term pregnancy leaves a woman with more milk-producing differentiated cells, which means that she has fewer cancer-vulnerable cells in her breasts than she did before the pregnancy.”

The NCI fact sheet may be accessed online at cis.nci.nih.gov. Brind’s minority report may be found at www.bcpinstitute.org. The Internet site of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer may be accessed at www.abortionbreastcancer.com.