This isn’t quite true about abortion and breast cancer

The incautious words of the Australian senator Eric Abetz linking abortion to breast cancer on a television show were still being digested when the calls began.

“Can I ask you something personal?” a patient asks.

“What’s the matter?”

“Do you think you could talk to my mother-in-law? She can’t stop hinting that my breast cancer is related to my previous abortion – it’s making me upset and worried that she now won’t help.”

I listen in disbelief as she continues, “I am sorry I hid it from you but I had an abortion years ago when I lost my job, couldn’t afford rent, and felt insecure about the future. I am not religious but it’s awful enough to be considered a sinner without being told that the breast cancer is a by-product of that decision.”

“Firstly, I don’t need to know about your abortion”, I say, thinking furiously about how to salvage the situation quickly. “Secondly, there is no plausible scientific evidence to back this claim. We can discuss how to approach your family but please be clear on one thing – although old reports exist, there is no proven link between abortion and breast cancer.”

Directly as stated that’s true. But the matter is a little more complex than that. For the greatest known risks for breast cancer is not to have carried a pregnancy to full term. No, not the abortion of one, but the failure to have had a child at all. That’s why breast cancer rates among nuns are so famously higher than they are among the general population.

Thus it’s true that directly, abortion does not lead to breast cancer. But if abortion leads to not having a child at all then the risk is indeed elevated.

21 thoughts on “This isn’t quite true about abortion and breast cancer”

  1. I know an awful lot of mothers who’ve had breast cancer. I’m going to a memorial service tomorrow night for one.

  2. “Abortions and breast cancer are both common to women. The Better Health Channel Victoria states a 2005 estimate of between 70,000 and 80,000 abortions in Australia annually.”

    This is very sad.

    There’s a limit to what we can do to prevent breast cancer, but the vast majority of abortions are medically unjustifiable.

  3. Yes, it is considerably more complex than that, not least because pregnancy itself increases the risk of developing breast cancer in younger women, albeit that this is a transient increase lasting around 10-15 years and early breast cancers tend to much more aggressive than those that develop later in life.

    None of this, however, detracts from the fact that the ABC hypothesis, as promoted by anti-abortion activists such as Angela Lanfranchi, is a complete an utter nonsense.

  4. Steve: So they shouldn’t happen

    Seems to be a minority view now but it’s one that I share with you.

  5. The real point though is that it’s a common disease, and even if you attempt to minimise every risk factor, as with most cancers, you can still get it. So it’s all about finding cures, or actual preventative medicine, rather than the pretty useless “do this, don’t do that” approach beloved of the Public Health Puritans.

    I am also a bit of a crank in that I think there is a much greater role played by viruses (particularly papillomas) than is currently being acknowledged.

  6. Actually the biggest risk factor for breast cancer is not not having children, it is being female. Relative risk is about 100.

    Further evidence that women who get breast cancer shouldn’t have had the temerity to be born with ovaries.

  7. The kid thing is also almost entirely down to having a bit lower lifetime estrogen exposure than the non-kidders – those 9 months per scion of pregnancy plus however much lactation.

    So to avoid breast cancer, ladies, have a sprog and keep it on the tit for 5 years. Anyone who does otherwise is digging their own grave.

  8. The Meissen Bison & JuliaM – as a lad, I used to wonder how people in the olden days could live with the barbaric practices of their times – say, feeding Christians to the lions, or owning slaves, or leaving newborns out on a hillside for the night.

    I don’t wonder any more. Progress is a myth.

  9. Steve. Our progress takes the form of being self-obsessed to the extent that we can deny our own barbarism.

  10. As a young man I got my then girlfriend pregnant and persuaded her to have an abortion.

    I’m from a serious catholic family and it would have broken my mother’s heart (though I’ve come to realise not as much as the course I took would have done).

    Not a day passes – or not many days – when I don’t think about her and our child.

    I’ve had sleepless, weeping nights about it. My wife has had to hold my hand now and then.

    I’ve thought many times about contacting her – haven’t spoken for 25 years – to apologise for persuading her but I haven’t because I don’t want to rake it all up again if she’s put it behind her.

    I learned a terrible lesson, that being weak – which I was – is unacceptable.

    Abortion is an awful thing and no society which permits, and even celebrates, it as ours does deserves to survive, or will survive.

  11. Abortion is an awful thing and no society which permits, and even celebrates, it as ours does deserves to survive, or will survive.
    And demographics drive history. This nation has aborted about 6 million kids since the law was changed, and replaced them with an approximately equal number of immigrants. That’s changed the culture that, for all its faults. created the modern world.

    Nations that haven’t gone down the immigrant route – Japan, Italy, Russia – are also dying, just more quickly.

  12. Bloke in Germany – actually the risk factor in being female is 99%. 1% of breast cancer cases occur in men…

  13. @Johnnydub, hence relative risk. I should know my risk ratio, relative risk, odds ratio, etc off the top of my head but don’t. But between friends an RR of 100 is about right.

  14. As a young man I got my then girlfriend pregnant and persuaded her to have an abortion.

    I landed myself in the same predicament, but we both decided, separately and immediately, to abort. I probably thought about it a couple of times in the week that followed, but I can honestly say I never thought of it since unless prompted. Last I saw of her, some 6-7 years later, she didn’t seem any the worse for it either.

  15. @Steve “Progress” in your book is forcing 6 million women to have children they don’t want, with the added benefit for @JeremyT that we then might not have all those darkies living amongst us. Progress, indeed.

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