As breast cancer awareness month winds down, one leading breast cancer surgeon and professor has written an explanation of one of the risks women need to keep in mind when talking with friends and family about the deadly disease — abortion.
She is a surgeon who, as the co-director of the Sanofi-aventis Breast Care Program at the Steeplechase Cancer Center, has treated countless women facing a breast cancer diagnosis. Lanfranchi was named a 2010 Castle Connolly NY Metro Area “Top Doc” in breast surgery.
In an article she wrote for the medical journal Linacre Quarterly, Lanfranchi talks about why abortion presents women problems and increases their breast cancer risk:
A growing amount of evidence from quality studies suggests that induced abortion, but not spontaneous abortion or miscarriage, increases risk of breast cancer.
Of course, induced abortion is not the only risk factor for breast cancer. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer have never had an abortion. Most women who have had an induced abortion will not get breast cancer. Like a family history of breast cancer, which is involved in about 15 percent of all breast cancer cases, induced abortion is just another risk factor.
Cigarette smoke is a carcinogen. While only 15% of cigarette smokers get lung cancer, the risk has been well acknowledged. In comparison, induced abortion as a risk factor for breast cancer is somehow not as widely publicized.
Induced abortion boosts breast cancer risk because it stops the normal physiological changes in the breast that occur during a full term pregnancy and that lower a mother’s breast cancer risk. A woman who has a full term pregnancy at 20 has a 90% lower risk of breast cancer than a woman who waits until age 30.
Breast tissue after puberty and before a term pregnancy is immature and cancer-vulnerable. Seventy five percent of this tissue is Type 1 lobules where ductal cancers start and 25 percent is Type 2 lobules where lobular cancers start. Ductal cancers account for 85% of all breast cancers while lobular cancers account for 12-15% of breast cancers.
As soon as a woman conceives, the embryo secretes human chorionic gonadotrophin or hCG, the hormone we check for in pregnancy tests.
HCG causes the mother’s ovaries to increase the levels of estrogen and progesterone in her body resulting in a doubling of the amount of breast tissue she has; in effect, she then has more Type 1 and 2 lobules where cancers start.
After mid pregnancy at 20 weeks, the fetus/placenta makes hPL, another hormone that starts maturing her breast tissue so that it can make milk. It is only after 32 weeks that she has made enough of the mature Type 4 lobules that are cancer resistant so that she lowers her risk of breast cancer.
Induced abortion before 32 weeks leaves the mother’s breast with more vulnerable tissue for cancer to start. It is also why any premature birth before 32 weeks, not just induced abortion, increases or doubles breast cancer risk.
By the end of her pregnancy, 85% of her breast tissue is cancer resistant. Each pregnancy thereafter decreases her risk a further 10%.
Spontaneous abortions in the first trimester on the other hand don’t increase breast cancer risk because there is something wrong with the embryo, so hCG levels are low. Another possibility is that something is wrong with the mother’s ovaries and the estrogen and progesterone levels are low. When those hormones are low, the mother’s breasts do not grow and change.
A woman can use this information to make an informed decision about her pregnancy. If she chooses to abort her pregnancy for whatever reason, she should start breast screening about 8-10 years later so that if she does develop a cancer, it can be found early and treated early for a better outcome.
If she doesn’t have the resources to raise a child or is not ready to be a mother, there are millions of couples waiting to adopt any child, even one with disabilities.
Women need to understand their own bodies so that they can make the best decision for themselves.