Abortion and breast cancer

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

It would seem reasonable to provide information and clarification about the possible relationships of induced abortions to development of breast cancer as presented in the recent Empire insert from the Minnesota Right to Life Organization.

A number of study protocols are commonly used in research. Among those are "observational study designs." One such study protocol is called a "case control" design. This research often relies on historical recall of patients about a problem or disease. A known and problematic concern about the accuracy of this type of research is "recall bias" because this research depends on the patient to remember or admit a problem or disease from the past.

Research has indicated that healthy women significantly under-report their abortion history for any number of reasons. Women with breast cancer more accurately report their abortion history. This results in incorrect data collection about the number of abortions in patients with and without breast cancer. This leads to subsequently inaccurate and non-valid finding for the research about breast cancer and abortion.

A second common research design is called a "prospective study." This study design asks all cancer free women about their abortion history and then follows the women prospectly into the future to observe who develops breast cancer. This study design is considered more accurate and statistically valid.

A summary report of the National Cancer Institute Board of Scientific Advisors and the Board of Scientific Counselors was issued in March 2003 about early reproductive events (including abortion) and breast cancer. Their findings indicated that induced abortions are not associated with an increase in breast cancer. They conclude that scientific evidence does not support a casual association between induced abortion and breast cancer.

For those who wish to obtain accurate, reliable, and science-based information, a helpful Web site includes the American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org. At that site, enter "abortion and breast cancer" in the search box. The National Cancer Institute http://www.nci.nih.gov/cancerinfo/ere-workshop-report is another excellent resource that is credible and science-based.

I think it important that we evaluate carefully the plethora of information that comes our way. If we do not take care of ourselves, it is probably unlikely that anyone else will do this for us.

Carolyn V. Brown, M.D., MPH


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