The American Cancer Society reports that almost one of every eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer by age. It has become the leading cause of cancer death in women up to age 55. Many of the factors which put women at risk cannot be controlled. For example, women can’t control their family history, their age or whether their menstrual cycle starts early or ends late in life. But medical researchers are now realizing that women can control some of the risk factors in getting breast cancer by the choices they make; for example, choosing to eat a diet high in broccoli and cabbage. Choosing to have a child or terminate a pregnancy can also impact on the risk of breast cancer, as there is now growing evidence that abortion of a normal pregnancy, with the high estrogen levels it produces in the mother, predisposes a woman to getting breast cancer later in life.
Are You At Risk?
- Older than age 40?
- Personal history of breast cancer (already have had cancer in one breast)?
- Personal history of benign proliferative breast disease?
- Family history of breast cancer (mother, sister, aunt and/or grand-mother)?
- Risk increases if these relatives had it in both breasts and if it occurred before menopause.
- Never giving birth, or not giving birth until after age 30?
- Overweight after menopause?
- Menstrual periods started early and/or ended late in life?
- Personal history of ovarian cancer? I Previous chest area radiation as a child or young woman?
- Recent oral contraceptive use? Recent hormone replacement therapy use for more than 5 years?
- Drink 2-5 alcoholic drinks a day?
- Had a pregnancy, especially the first pregnancy, which resulted in abortion? This risk is substantially greater for women who have a family history of breast cancer, or who have had an abortion before age 18 or after age 30.
- If you fall in one or more of these categories, see your doctor about breast cancer detection information. For more specific information about the link between breast cancer and abortion, read the following interview with medical researcher Dr. Joel
Interview with Dr. Joel Brind*
Q: How does abortion ultimately cause breast cancer?
A: Almost all of the risk factors which are known to increase the risk of breast cancer are associated with some kind of excess exposure to the main female sex steroid hormone, estrogen. The theory on how this works in an abortion is quite simple.
The biggest surge of estrogen occurs in the first trimester of pregnancy, Estrogen goes sky high. That’s okay because although it stimulates’ the growth of the breasts, toward the end of the pregnancy other hormones kick in that make the breast tissue mature, which also kill off cells that are not needed. Once the mature cells are (ready) to produce milk, they are not in a growing mode. Consequently they are much less likely to be subject to the mutogenic or initiating effects of carcinogens, (the substances that produce cancer). The carcinogens will affe¬ct cells which basically can grow.
If you have an abortion during the first 32 weeks of the pregnancy, you get all of these growth-promoting effects on the tissues because of the big surge of estrogen. Without the differentiating and maturing effects of the later hormones, the net result is the opposite of what you find in a full-term pregnancy. It’s known that a full-term pregnancy early in a woman’s reproductive life is protective against breast cancer, but an early abortion not only does not confer that protection but goes the other way and confers increased risk. Thus, the extra estrogen ultimately -causes abnormal cells to grow into full blown cancer.
Q. Does a miscarriage (a spontaneous abortion) also confer increased breast cancer risk?
A. Generally, no. Studies have now consistently shown that most miscarriages–at least, first trimester miscarriages-do not confer increased breast cancer risk.
Q. Why wouldn’t a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) carry an increased risk as well as an induced abortion?
A. In simple terms, spontaneous abortion is the natural termination of an abnormal pregnancy. This is a much different event than an induced abortion, which is the artificial termination of a normal pregnancy. Most pregnancies which end in the spontaneous abortion do not produce the same high levels of estrogen as are produced by a normal pregnancy. Thus, there is not such a substantial stimulation pf breast growth. It is not the low estrogen which causes the miscarriage, but low levels of another hormone, progesterone. Since the estrogen is made from progesterone, estrogen levels are also low; too low to significantly increase the future risk of breast cancer.
Q. Of the women who will have abortions this year, how many cases, based on your research, will result in breast cancer?
A. Of the 500,000 women every year who get abortions and who never had a full-term pregnancy, you are increasing the average lifetime risk among them by at least 50 percent. By the year 2040 you are going to see 40,000 – 50,000 breast cancer cases minimum, every single year, that are due to induced abortions.
Q. Is there any difference in the severity of the cancer because of the abortion history?
A. There are a few studies which show that women who have breast cancer and who have a history of abortion not only have a greater incidence of breast cancer, but the cancer grows more rapidly, has more signs of cancer that are harder to treat, is more invasive and is more aggressive. The cancer comes back on average in a shorter period of time and they die more readily from the cancer. There is great need for more research in this area to verify this trend.
Q. When a woman visits her doctor, should she inform the doctor of her history of abortion during the breast exam and ask about the added risk of breast cancer?
A. Absolutely, I know a woman who a few years ago was told by her doctor she had a benign fibrocystic lump in her breast and not to worry about the prophylactic mastectomy (removal of the breast in the absence of cancer) because she wasn’t really high risk. She had no family history. But she didn’t have any children and she was 40 years old and she had two abortions and a miscarriage. Now that doctor, if he knew about this added risk, would likely have said, “Well, yes you are probably a good candidate for prophylactic mastectomy.” Meanwhile, less than a year later she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and she had to have a radical mastectomy.
Q. What are the risk factors for someone in this category?
A. The risk of breast cancer among the general population of women is now 12 percent. Among women who have no children it is more like 20 percent. And among women who have no children and also have one or more abortions it’s probably closer to 50/50. And an even more ominous association was uncovered by the large National Cancer Institute study published in 1994. Out of 1,800 subjects under age 45, 12 had a positive family history of breast cancer and also had an abortion before age 19. All 12 were in the breast cancer group. Thus the relative risk was actually reported as infinite.
Q. How does the legalization of RU 486 affect breast cancer rates based on your research?
A. Since this drug does nothing to neutralize the effects of pregnancy hormones up until the time of the abortion, it will have the same effect on future breast cancer risk as surgical abortion. Wherever it is used to induce abortion it will increase the risk of breast cancer and for every 20 child-less women who take it, there will be one who will get breast cancer from it who otherwise would not have gotten it.
Inform Your Doctor
Tell your doctor how Dr. Joel Brind links the long history of peer reviewed medical research establishing the breast cancer and abortion link:
- As of May 2002, 28 out of 37 studies worldwide, and 13 out of 15 studies on American women have reported a higher risk of breast cancer among women who have had any abortions.
- A 1989 New York State Department of Health study of all 1,451 upstate and Long Island women who developed breast cancer between 1976 and 1980 before age 40 showed a significant 90 percent risk increase among women who had ever had any abortions. This study was particularly strong because it was based entirely on medical records of abortion.
- A highly significant 1993 Howard University study showed that African American women over age 50 were 4.7 times more likely to get breast cancer if they had had any abortions compared to women who’d not had any abortions.
- A 1994 National Cancer Institute funded study of over 1,800 women in Washington state found a significant 50 percent increase risk among women who had any abortions. The risk was more than double for women whose abortion (or first abortion) took place before age 18 or over age 30.7
- Four studies on Japanese women which reported data on induced abortion and breast cancer all showed increased risk, averaging 130 percent.’ These studies spanned breast cancer cases diagnosed during a period of over 40 years, dating as far back as 1940.
- In 1996, Dr. Joel Brind, of Baruch College in New York City, and colleagues from the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, published a comprehensive re-view and meta-analysis, which combined the data from all the studies ever published on the abortion-breast cancer link until 1996. They reported an overall, significant average risk increase of 30 percent, independent of abortion’s other risk increasing effect delaying a woman’s first full-term pregnancy.
* Joel Brind is a Professor of Human Biology and Endocrinology at Baruch College, the City University of New York and president of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute in Poughkeepsie, NY. Dr. Brind earned his B.S. at Yale University and his Ph.D in Basic Medical Sciences at New York University. He has been conducting research on diseases related to reproductive steroid hormones since 1972.
Content taken with permission from the following informational pamphlet:
Breast Cancer – Risks and Choices | ©2002 Easton Publishing Company, Inc. – Item #262