SEATTLE — Though research confirming a strong connection between the use of oral contraceptives and a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer has been public for nine months, some people are asking why news about it is just coming out now.
They say the mainstream media and cancer groups have been silent about the connection.
The study, authored by Jessica Dolle and other researchers at the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, appeared in the April 2009 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.
It shows a strong connection between the use of oral contraceptives and the deadly “triple-negative breast cancer.” The study found that the connection was highest among women who began using oral contraceptives while they were teenagers.
“Although the study was published nine months ago, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and other cancer fund-raising businesses have made no efforts to reduce breast cancer rates by issuing nationwide warnings to women,” said Karen Malec, president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer.
“Obviously, more women will die of breast cancer if the NCI fails in its duty to warn about the risks of oral contraceptives and abortion and if government funds are used to pay for both as a part of any health-care bill,” Malec said.
Breast cancer is the leading cancer in women and the most common cause of cancer death for U.S. women age 20-59. Yet, according to several cancer researchers, women are being denied information that could help prevent one of breast cancer’s risk factors.
The Dolle study showed that women who start using oral contraceptives before the age of 18 multiply their risk of triple-negative breast cancer by 3.7 times. Recent users of oral contraceptives within the last one to five years multiply their risk by 4.2 times.
Furthermore, the study is noteworthy because it contained an admission of the link between abortion and breast cancer by the National Cancer Institute, which, in 2003, had concluded that “induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk.”
“The NCI website basically says that oral contraceptives are minimally risky, yet the paper found that the risk of TNBC increased by 150% for women under age 45 who had used oral contraceptives,” said Dr. Chris Kahlenborn, an internist at Altoona Hospital in Pennsylvania.
Abortion-Breast Cancer Link
Additionally, the study showed a 40% risk increase for women who have had induced abortions. One of the study’s tables listed abortion as a “known and suspected risk factor.” Previously, the National Cancer Institute had said that abortion was not a credible risk factor.
Kahlenborn explained the link.
“At the beginning of pregnancy there are great increases in certain hormone levels (e.g. estrogen, progesterone, and hCG) that support pregnancy,” Kahlenborn said. “In response to these changes, breast cells divide and mature into cells able to produce milk. Abortion causes an abrupt fall in hormone levels, leaving the breast cells in an immature state. These immature cells can more easily become cancer cells.”
Joel Brind, professor of biology and endocrinology at Baruch College of the City University of New York, described both findings as a “bombshell.”
“This paper provides clear support for the existence of the abortion-breast cancer link,” said Brind.
The National Cancer Institute did not return the Register’s calls and has released a “no comment” in response to the findings.
At least eight medical organizations recognize the link between abortion and breast cancer. They include the Catholic Medical Association, National Physicians Center for Family Resources, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, the Polycarp Research Institute, MaterCare International, and the Breast Care Center-EAMC.
A 2006 meta-analysis of 39 studies, conducted by Kahlenborn and others, was published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings. It found that 21 out of 23 retrospective studies showed a 44% increased risk of breast cancer in women who took oral contraceptives prior to their first pregnancy. All of that study’s authors agreed that women should be told of the potential risk of premenopausal breast cancer prior to commencing oral contraceptive use.
Kahlenborn noted that the National Cancer Institute website cites a 1996 Oxford pooled analysis to claim that contraceptives show little increased risk.
“This analysis used older data and included older women,” said Kahlenborn. “By ignoring the most recent and comprehensive meta-analysis, they are clearly citing outdated data, and women are being denied information in this preventable risk factor.”
In 2005, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified oral estrogen-progestogen contraceptives as carcinogenic to humans.
Dr. James Cerhan, who works in the Division of Epidemiology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, said that more research is necessary to provide more definitive evidence. He did, however, stress the need for close evaluation of oral contraceptive use before a first full-term pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood has repeatedly stated that its position is that “abortion poses no demonstrated health risks.”
“The link between induced abortion and breast cancer is a theory whose principal promoters oppose abortion regardless of its safety,” say Planned Parenthood Affiliates of New Jersey.
The Catholic Medical Association disagrees.
In a resolution approved in 2003, the Catholic Medical Association stated, “Whereas 29 out of 38 worldwide epidemiological studies show an increased risk of breast cancer of approximately 30% among women who have had an abortion … be it resolved that the Catholic Medical Association endorses the passage of state legislation to require abortionists to inform all women of their future increased vulnerability to breast cancer.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.