Perspective: Confusion on Breast Cancer Deepens; after 50 Years of Research, You Would Expect There to Be Some Informed Consensus on the Connection between Breast Cancer and Abortion - but It Seems There Is Not. Jo Ind Asks Where the Fractious World of Medical Politics Leaves the Ordinary Woman

The Birmingham Post (England), January 28, 2004 | Go to article overview

Perspective: Confusion on Breast Cancer Deepens; after 50 Years of Research, You Would Expect There to Be Some Informed Consensus on the Connection between Breast Cancer and Abortion - but It Seems There Is Not. Jo Ind Asks Where the Fractious World of Medical Politics Leaves the Ordinary Woman


Byline: Jo Ind

I s there a link between breast cancer and abortion? In the left corner we have the National Cancer Institute. 'No,' it says. In the right corner we have the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute. 'Yes,' it claims.

So what to we have inbetween? Some pretty confused women who may - or may not - be at a greater risk of a killer disease as a result.

Breast cancer cases in Britain have risen from around 20,000 a year in the late 70s to almost double that number now. Approximately women 13,000 die from the disease each year. Naturally medics of many disciplines are trying to establish what has caused the phenomenal rise. Obesity, hormone replacement therapy, shaving under the arms and using anti-perspirant deodorant are all been investigated.

Today (wed) Joel Brind, professor of human biology and endocrinology at the City Uni-versity in New York is to speak at the House of Commons on what he claims is irrefutable scientific evidence of a link between breast cancer and abortion.

His credentials sound good. He has been studying the subject for more than ten years.

The founder of New York's Breast Cancer Prevention Institute says that the more oestrogen a woman is exposed to in her lifetime, the higher her risk of breast cancer.

If a woman starts her menstrual cycle early and continues to menstruate into her late 50s, she is at a higher risk of breast cancer than someone who has menstruated for only 25 years because she has been exposed to monthly rises of oestrogen for a longer period of time.

The good news is that when a woman's breast matures at the end of pregnancy, it develops cells which are resistant to carcinogens so carrying a baby to term and breast feeding afterwards protects the woman against the disease.

If a woman has an abortion she is more vulnerable to cancer because she is subject to an enormous surge of oestrogen right at the start of her pregnancy - around 2 ,000 per cent - but does not go on to develop the mature breast cells which protect her.

Prof Brind claims that the average British women stands a one in ten chance of getting breast cancer. That figure rises to one in three if a woman who has not previously had a baby has an abortion when she is aged under 18 and does not go on to carry a baby to term until she is over 30.

That is quite some statistic. The problem is that the scientists are arguing about it. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service says it will not advice women of breast cancer risks because the evidence is inconclusive.

In February last year the National Cancer Institute convened a workshop of more than 100 of the world's leading experts who study pregnancy and breast cancer risk.

They agreed with the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute that early age of the first menstrual period, late age of menopause and late age at the time of the birth of her first full-term baby all increase a woman's chances of getting breast cancer.

They concluded, however, that having an abortion does not increase a woman's subsequent risk of developing the disease. They say the studies from the 1950s to the mid 1990s, which indicated a link, were flawed.

Prof Brind says the conference was flawed. He says the only presentations were made by scientists who agreed there was no association between the two and there was no time for a counter debate.

Meanwhile there are some doctors who go so far as to claim that abortions are good for you. This week research by Sweden's Karolinska Institute was widely published showing that women who have had at least one abortion had a reduced risk of breast cancer compared to those who had none.

So where does all this information and counter information leave ordinary women? …

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Perspective: Confusion on Breast Cancer Deepens; after 50 Years of Research, You Would Expect There to Be Some Informed Consensus on the Connection between Breast Cancer and Abortion - but It Seems There Is Not. Jo Ind Asks Where the Fractious World of Medical Politics Leaves the Ordinary Woman
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