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Silence on abortion’s link to breast cancer suspect

For the past 15 years, there’s been a growing controversy over the link between induced abortion and increased risk of breast cancer. But few Canadian women would know the details that may be germane to dramatically reducing their risk of breast cancer. And fewer still would know that a key researcher at the National Cancer Institute has now reversed her position and stated that abortion is a significant factor in raising the risk of breast cancer.

Women should know that one of the most respected researchers in the field, Dr. Louise Brinton (chief of the institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics) co-authored a 2009 study stating that induced abortion increased the risk of triple-negative breast cancer by 40 per cent in women under 45. The paper, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, stated the above and then further observed that this increase was “consistent with the effects observed in previous studies on younger women.”

The debate about this link has been ongoing since 1996 when Dr. Joel Brind published a meta-analysis of 21 studies on the topic in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The pooled data showed that women who had abortions had a 30 per cent increase in developing breast cancer.

His work was immediately written off in the media as biased or substandard. Few bothered to report that one of the co-authors was staunchly pro-abortion or that a respected pro-abortion epidemiologist said the study was “very objective and beyond reproach.”

Over 29 credible studies supporting the link have since been reported. A 2007 study in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons reported that induced abortion was the risk factor that best predicted the incidence of breast cancer in women in eight European countries.

In the midst of this growing body of knowledge, Dr. Brinton organized a 2003 workshop to discuss the studies. It subsequently issued a statement to American women saying, “abortion is not associated with increased breast cancer risk.”

Six years later, Dr. Brinton herself has published a study that directly counters that statement and lends its support to previous studies that demonstrate the link between breast cancer and abortion.

Of course, this time there are no accusations of bias or sloppy work. In fact, for the most part, there has simply been silence. There have been no statements from women’s groups and no calls for further studies to confirm or deny the claims. Even the National Cancer Institute has refused to comment on the dramatic reversal.

The topic of breast cancer has long been a media darling and, consequently, there’s been no shortage of reports on the plethora of new medical discoveries that are constantly shifting the rules for preventing, diagnosing and treating this disease. We’re told about coffee, chocolate and wine; and the usefulness (or not) of mammograms and the harms (or not) of hormone replacement therapy. But this urgent need to keep women informed and up-to-date on the latest research suddenly dissipates if it means turning a critical eye to the sacred cow of abortion.

In what is surely a Ripley’s Believe it or Not moment, the Globe and Mail was the one Canadian newspaper to report the abrupt reversal and its political impact in Canada. Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott, widely known for his pro-life views, had previously mentioned the link and now felt vindicated by current events. But the Liberals’ Status of Women critic Anita Neville was quick to call on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to silence Vellacott for his supposedly “false and misleading” statements. In a media release, Neville claimed Vellacott had denigrated “women and their rights and freedoms, adding “enough is enough . . . women deserve better from their elected representatives.”

I agree with Neville. Women do deserve better. They deserve better from the leaders of women’s groups and cancer groups. They deserve to have leaders who push for more information and research. They deserve better from politicians who try to push uncomfortable health facts under the dirty carpet. Most of all, they deserve to receive important health facts without political and ideological filters.

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Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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