Battle to Recognize Abortion-Breast Cancer Link Continues

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 16, 2011   |   5:34PM   |   Toronto, Ontario

The battle over getting scientists and the media to recognize the link between induced abortion and breast cancer continues, as pro-life advocates responded to a scientist who denied the link in a Toronto newspaper letter.

Gail Erlick Robinson, the University of Toronto’s director of the Women’s Mental Health Program, University Health Program, wrote an August 11 letter to the National Post arguing that “In 2003, the National Cancer Institute in the United States assembled a panel of 100 experts to assess the studies of this proposed relationship (between induced abortion and increased breast cancer risk). It concluded that there was no connection between having an abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer.”

Robinson’s comments sparked a flood of responses — including one from Angela Lanfranchi, MD, the Clinical assistant professor of surgery at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. Dr. Lanfranchi says the NCI conclusion was a political one not based in the science showing the abortion-breast cancer link exists.

“Despite the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) conclusion after its 2003 workshop that abortion is not a risk for breast cancer, that conclusion flies in the face of widely known reproductive risks,” Dr. Lanfranchi said. “An abortion does not turn back the clock and make a pregnant woman “unpregnant.” if she chooses to have a full term pregnancy, she will have a lower risk of breast cancer. Since it was first reported in 1743 that nuns have a higher breast cancer risk, medicine has known that a pregnancy lowers a woman’s risk of breast cancer.”

“If she chooses an induced abortion, she will either remain childless, a well-established risk of breast cancer, or delay her pregnancy until she is older, also a well-established risk of breast cancer,” the professor said. “In fact, for each year she delays a full-term pregnancy, she increases her risk of premenopausal breast cancer 5% and postmenopausal breast cancer 3%.”

Lanfranchi said NCI doesn’t have a good history of recognizing the latest research on a given topic.

“The NCI also disregarded the cigarette lung cancer risk until the 1960s, 30 years after the first study linking the two was published,” she noted.

Dr. Andrew Caruk, of Kitchner, Ontario, also replied to the letter and said Robinson ignored the fact that one NCI researcher has acknowledged the abortion-breast cancer link is authentic.

“Dr. Louise Brinton and her colleagues from the Institute have stated in their study that “a statistically significant 40% increased risk for women who have abortions” exists, and that a “270% increased risk of triple negative breast cancer among those who used oral contraceptive while under age 18 and a 320% increased risk of triple negative breast cancer among recent users (within 1-5 years) of oral contraceptives also exists,” he writes.

Meanwhile, Karen Malec of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, replied, and pointed to a new PowerPoint presentation posted on the website of Cornell University as validating the science behind the abortion-breast cancer link.

“The presentation, which provides the biological reasons for the development of breast cancer, closely resembles what our group and others have said about the link. The only difference is Cornell’s presentation remains politically correct and doesn’t specifically implicate induced abortion,” Malec noted. “Compare what Cornell says with what our group and the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute (BCPI) say about the development of breast cancer.”

“We say most of the childless woman’s breast lobules consist of cancer-susceptible Type 1 and 2 lobules, but most of the childbearing woman’s lobules consist of cancer-resistant Type 3 and 4 lobules. Cornell confirms that (slides #14-15) and agrees that the most cancer-susceptible time in a woman’s life occurs before pregnancy and childbirth (slide #26-28),” she explained. “We say the breasts grow under the influence of pregnancy hormones (primarily estrogen) during a normal pregnancy. Estrogen stimulates the childless woman’s (mostly) cancer-susceptible lobules to multiply. An abortion or premature birth before 32 weeks gestation leaves her with more places for cancers to start.”

“Cornell says elevated levels of estrogen cause the cells to multiply and leave the breasts with more “targets” where cancers can develop. Cornell’s slide #11 says, “Estrogen and other reproductive hormones cause proliferation (multiplication) of breast cells.” Slide #30-31 describes the harm estrogen can do,” Malec continued. “Slides 14-18 show how breast lobules mature from cancer-susceptible lobules during puberty to mostly cancer-resistant lobules after pregnancy and lactation. It says the more cells that are at risk, the greater the number of targets for cancer to be initiated.”

Malec’s letter concludes:  “We say the woman who carries her pregnancy to term is exposed to other hormones during the last months of pregnancy that mature 85% of her lobules into fully cancer-resistant Type 4 lobules. She is left with fewer places for cancers to start than she had before she became pregnant. That explains why epidemiologists have found that women with larger families and early first full term pregnancies (before age 24) have a lower lifetime risk for the disease.”