Deniers of the link between Abortion and Breast Cancer ignore the wave of new evidence from South Asia

By Joel Brind, Ph.D.

Naomi Elster, described as a scientist and a volunteer for the Abortion Rights Campaign, says, “It’s time to talk about the pseudoscience corrupting the abortion debate.”  (The ARC is an Irish coalition organized to make abortion legal on demand in Ireland.)

I couldn’t agree more.

The real question is, of course, who’s peddling the pseudoscience?

Elster certainly claims that major authorities—specifically naming the WHO—are on her side, i.e., “that having an abortion does not increase breast cancer risk.” Plus, she cites her own “background in breast cancer research.”

So for those who have a genuine interest in getting beyond the perennial credentials battle to actually know the truth, I guess I’ll just have to double down on appealing to common sense, including the common sense of biology.

To be clear the only actual scientific evidence Elster cites is “a huge analysis of more than 50 separate research studies with a total of 83,000 breast cancer patients and survivors” (that) found “no evidence” of an abortion-breast cancer link.

I could go on at considerable length to critique this fatally flawed “collaborative reanalysis” by Valerie Beral et al. (as I have done many times before, including in NRL News Today). But when most people see or hear that it was done by researchers at Oxford University and published in the Lancet (one of the premier medical journals in the world), they stop reading or listening (or thinking). It MUST be true.

So I’ll just stick to facts that are absolutely not in dispute and challenge the reader to use common sense and reason.

To begin with, this study Elster cites was published in 2004–13 years ago! Time has not stood still. Millions of abortions have been performed since that time (as well as decades before), and millions of cases of breast cancer cases have been diagnosed worldwide since then as well.

Therefore I must ask if those on my side, who insist that there is a link between having an induced abortion and increasing the risk of having breast cancer–the ABC link–should we then not be witnessing a worldwide explosion in breast cancer incidence since 2004? Would this not be especially evident in places where abortion has skyrocketed, such as China and South Asia over the last few decades? (Remember breast cancer often takes 20 years to show up following an event that may trigger it, such as abortion.)

In fact, we are witnessing just such an explosion.

In 2008, a high profile group of scientists wrote in the prestigious Journal of the National Cancer Institute: “China is on the cusp of a breast cancer epidemic.” Interestingly, they did not mention abortion at all.

But by 2013, a Chinese research team headed by Dr. Yubei Huang published a meta-analysis [1] of 36 recent studies in mainland China. The team documented a 44% increase in breast cancer risk among those with one or more abortions –up to an 89% increased risk with those with 3 or more abortions.

That’s even more than the average 30% risk increase with abortion that my colleagues and I at Penn State Medical College documented in our 1996 meta-analysis of worldwide studies up to that point. And in China, with almost all abortions done after a woman has her first child, the effect on breast cancer risk on breast cancer risk is still muted. That’s because another well known fact is that a woman’s breasts are more vulnerable to cancer-causing influences before she has her first child.

Now, my group from the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute is about to publish a meta-analysis of studies done on women in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka). As I have recently discussed here previously, South Asia provides a particularly good opportunity to measure the ABC link.

In the 20 studies that have been published which address the ABC link—all within in the last decade—the average risk increase for breast cancer is 150%! With a mortality rate of about 50% for breast cancer in South Asia (compared to about 20% in the West), that means that literally millions of women can be expected to die of breast cancer there in the coming decades, because they had one or more abortions.

Recall that Elster cited “a huge analysis of more than 50 separate research studies” that supposedly showed no ABC link. But not one of the more than 50 separate research studies in China and South Asia that were much more recently published were included. (There are quite a few other recent studies in the Mideast, Central Asia and elsewhere, which have also been published in the last few years).

I wonder if Ms. Elster would dispute any of these even more compelling facts about the ABC link. But I suspect she cannot hear me, being stuck in her time machine, parked in denial around 2004.

[1] A meta-analysis is a study that pools the results of many studies, thus increasing the overall statistical power to find or strengthen a significant result.

Editor’s note. Joel Brind, Ph.D. is a Professor of Human Biology and Endocrinology at Baruch College, City University of New York. He is co-founder of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, Somerville, NJ, and a frequent contributor to NRL News Today and National Right to Life News.