National Cancer Institute Should Tell Women of Abortion-Breast Cancer Link

Opinion   Bill Saunders   Nov 9, 2010   |   1:01PM    Washington, DC

For years the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has denied a link between abortion and breast cancer.  But NCI may soon have to apologize to the women it has misled—because one of its own researchers is starting to acknowledge the link. 

In the last 18 months alone, five studies have demonstrated an increased risk of breast cancer following abortion.  One of those studies, co-authored by Louise Briton, a NCI branch chief, found a statistically significant 40 percent increased risk of breast cancer following abortion.[1] 

The study also acknowledged that its findings were “consistent with the effects observed in previous studies on younger women.  Specifically, older age, family history of breast cancer, earlier menarche age, induced abortion, and oral contraceptive use were associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.”[2]

Have these findings caused NCI to reverse course?  Not yet, anyway.  On its website, NCI still blatantly states that “having an abortion… does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer”[3]—a errant conclusion made during a 2003 workshop organized by Ms. Briton herself.

It is time for NCI to stop ignoring the facts. 

This failure of NCI to protect women highlights the need for state legislatures to take action.  Women must be informed that induced abortion increases their breast cancer risk.  To date, 31 states require that women receive some kind of information before abortion.  However, only three states—Minnesota, Mississippi, and Texas—explicitly require physicians to inform women seeking abortion of the link between abortion and breast cancer.  Two other states—Alaska and West Virginia—include information about the link in the state-mandated educational materials that women must receive prior to abortion.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there have been more than 45 million legal abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973.[4]  That’s 45 million women who likely unknowingly accepted a greater risk of subsequent breast cancer when they obtained their abortions—proving once again that abortion has two victims: the child and the mother.

[1] J.M. Dolle et al., Risk Factors for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer in Women Under the Age of 45 Years, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Rev. 18(4):1157, 1158 (Apr. 2009).

2 Id. at 1162-63.

3 National Cancer Institute, Abortion, Miscarriage, and Breast Cancer Risk (reviewed 2010), available at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/risk/abortion-miscarriage (last visited Oct. 26, 2010).

4 Guttmacher Institute, Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States (July 2008), available at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html (last visited Oct. 26, 2010).