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Religious Tolerance logo

Abortion - Breast Cancer link?

Introduction: Risk factors; a known ABC link

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What are the risk factors for breast cancer:

There are many generally acknowledged risk factors for breast cancer:

bulletAge. Most cases happen to women who are over 50 years of age.
bulletBeing female. Breast cancer in men happens, but is relatively rare.
bulletA teen-aged woman starting to smoke within five years of her first period. (This increases her chances of breast cancer by 70%)
bulletHaving had cancer (other than non-melanoma skin cancer) in the past.
bulletBeing overweight.
bulletHaving a diet low in fruits, vegetables and grains.
bulletHaving a family history of breast cancer in first degree relatives.
bulletNever having been pregnant.
bulletHaving started to menstruate before age 12.
bulletHaving started menopause after age 55. 1

In addition, the multi-national World Health Organization "studies and MacMahon et al clearly established that the younger she has a full term pregnancy the less chance she has of developing breast cancer." 2 Dr. Irma Russo of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, PA, examined the results of many studies around the world and found that a full-term pregnancy by age 20 cuts a woman's breast cancer risk by half. 3

However, estimates that 60 to 70% of all breast cancers in women occur in individuals who do not have any of the "classic risk factors." 4

There are other factors that may increase the chances of a woman developing breast cancer. However, no consensus, has currently been reached among researchers:

bulletBeing on a high fat diet.
bulletHigh levels of environmental pollutants.
bulletHeavy consumption of alcohol.
bulletTobacco smoking.
bulletUsing street drugs.
bulletElectrical fields from high-tension lines, power transformers, etc. 
bulletStarting to use contraceptive pills before the age of 20.
bulletUsing contraceptive pills for more than 10 years.
bulletHaving one or more abortions.

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Common pro-life beliefs about an ABC link:

Some physicians -- notably Dr. Joel Brind -- that women who have had an abortion are at greater risk of contracting breast cancer later in their life.

It should be no surprise that most groups in the pro-life and pro-choice movements take opposing views on the possibility of a positive link between abortion and the incidence of breast cancer.

bulletMany, perhaps most, pro-life web sites accept and promote this belief. They tend to report on studies that appear to show such a link, and quote researchers who believe that a link does exist. They typically ignore studies that show that no such link is likely. One agency posted advertisements on U.S. east coast subway systems. They said "Women Who Choose Abortion Suffer More and Deadlier Breast Cancer!" The ad included a toll-free number. When women phoned, they were told that half of all abortion patients would develop breast cancer later in life. One suspects that the group knew that their information was false. However, their belief that abortion is murder may well have affected their judgment. They might have felt that ends justify the means.
bulletMany, perhaps most, pro-choice web sites reject this belief. They tend to list research projects that appear to show no linkage; they often quote experts and organizations which believe that either no link exists or that the existence of a link has not been proven at this time.

Our policy is to present all points of view on each topic, and let our visitors make up their own minds. We feel that women who are considering whether to have an abortion need to have the most accurate information available.

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One abortion-breast cancer (ABC) link is known to exist:

In reality, a link does exist. But it is rarely discussed. As noted above, physicians have known for years that women have never been pregnant have about twice the risk of developing breast cancer, when compared to women who have given birth to at least one child. 5 Some component in the pregnancy process appears to give women partial immunity to breast cancer later in life.

Studies conducted by Jose Russo and her colleagues have suggested that that breast cells only reach full maturity after a completed pregnancy. Once this process -- called differentiation -- is completed, the cells are less vulnerable to cancer-causing changes. An early pregnancy hastens the cells' differentiation.

Dr. Russo said:

"A high-susceptibility or high-risk window exists early in life, between the start of ovarian function and the first pregnancy. During this period, the mammary gland has continuously varying characteristics influenced by ovarian and pituitary hormones. These traits change during pregnancy under the influence of embryonic and placental hormones." 3

Some pro-life and pro-choice promoters explain this fact in two opposing ways:

bulletA common pro-life position: Consider a young woman who is pregnant. If she continues the pregnancy and gives birth, then her chances of having breast cancer will be lower than if she elects to have an abortion. By having an abortion, she loses the considerable protection that an early completed pregnancy offers. Thus, it can be argued that having an abortion increases her chances of contracting breast cancer.
bulletA common pro-choice position: Consider the same woman. If she has an early abortion, then she will not complete the pregnancy, and so will not receive the protection against breast cancer that having a baby would have provided. Her chance of contracting breast cancer is unchanged from what it would have been if she had not become pregnant. Since her chance of getting cancer is unchanged, then having an abortion does not increase her chances of contracting breast cancer; it merely keeps her chance of developing breast cancer constant.

An alternative way of viewing this link is to consider two "average" women: Jane and Joan are both 20 years of age, and are pregnant for the first time in their life. Jane decides to continue the pregnancy; she gives birth at the age of 21. But Joan decides to have an abortion. Joan later has her first child at age 30. Joan will have an increased chance of developing breast cancer than Jane. But that increased risk was not caused by the abortion; it was caused by her decision to not have a baby until later in life. A research study of 1,000 Janes and Joans would show that there is an ABC link. Yet the true link may be between the year of first pregnancy and cancer; it may be totally unrelated to abortion.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Breast cancer risk factors," at:
  2. B. MacMahon et. al,  Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 43:209-21, (1970). Quoted in "The deadly after-effect of abortion: breast cancer," at:
  3. "Early Pregnancy Cuts Breast Cancer Risk," My Ustinet News, 2005-APR-19, at:
  4. Dr. & Mrs. J.C. Willke, "Why can't we love them both," at:
  5. Journal of the National Medical Association, 1993-DEC.

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 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Medical problems > Cancer > here

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Copyright 1998 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-MAY-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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