A Dangerous Spin: Some Docs Downplay Study Linking Pill to Breast Cancer


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The World Heart Federation reports that physical inactivity increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by 50%, and the American Heart Association found moderately overweight women in one study had a 50% increased risk of coronary heart disease.

To such reports, no one ever adds, “But that 50% doesn’t mean anything. So just sit on your couch all day and eat Twinkies.”

And yet … when researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle recently found that women who had taken certain birth-control pills within the past year faced a 50% increased risk of breast cancer compared to women who hadn’t taken the pills, some doctors seemingly couldn’t wait to discredit the findings. The National Cancer Institute-funded study was published Aug. 1 in the journal Cancer Research.

“[There’s] nothing of interest in this article,” Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Wilmington, told Reuters.

Noting that the 50% higher risk is actually a very low number and can be attributed to bias or random chance, Grimes added that, even with the 50% increase, the number of women between the ages of 20 and 49 getting breast cancer is still below 1%.

Grimes, a well-known abortionist, told Reuters the new results are not important for women or doctors.

Repeating Grimes’ claims and backing up his assertions with quotes from other doctors, New York Daily News reporter Meredith Engel reassured readers, “None of the doctors the Daily News spoke to for this story were involved in the new research.”

What Engel failed to report was that, when speaking about the alleged non-dangers of the pill, Grimes has a financial conflict of interest. He’s a paid consultant to pharmaceutical companies Bayer and Merck, both of which sell birth-control pills.

When asked for her response to Grimes’ critiques of her work, the study’s lead author, Elizabeth Beaber of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, did not return the Register's phone calls or emails.

Other breast-cancer researchers, however, were more outspoken.

“About 40,000 to 45,000 women develop breast cancer each year prior to age 50. When people like Dr. Grimes keep saying it's a rare disease prior to age 50, you have to realize we’re talking about over 40,000 women, mostly moms with a couple of kids, who now have a very nasty disease (breast cancer is more aggressive prior to age 50),” said breast-cancer researcher Dr. Chris Kahlenborn of the Polycarp Research Institute in Camp Hill, Pa.


Substantial Impact

Mainstream news reports downplaying the new study stressed a partial truth: A woman’s initial risk of getting breast cancer while on the pill is small.

The same reports, however, failed to add that, when applied to millions of American women, the impact could be substantial.

Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in U.S. women ages 20 to 59. In 2013, the American Cancer Society’s estimated number of invasive breast cancers was 232,340 cases. Approximately 2 in 15 American women are expected to develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Sadly, during the past four decades, breast-cancer rates have risen steadily worldwide, and they’ve risen most rapidly in more developed countries, especially among younger women.

What’s more, the finding that contraceptive drugs can cause breast cancer is not new. “It has been found by many other studies way back to the ’80s,” said Joel Brind, professor of biology and endocrinology at Baruch College, City University of New York.  


The Evidence Mounts

In 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s International Agency on Research of Cancer (IARC) classified the contraceptive pill as a Group 1 cancer-causing substance for cancers of the breast, liver and cervix.

Although WHO also said the pill reduces risk for endometrial and ovarian cancers, the number of women with those two cancers is four times less than the number diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

A 2006 meta-analysis published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings raised more red flags.

“We found 21 out of 23 studies, more than 90% of the studies, showed that if you take the pill before you have kids, you have a 44% increased risk of getting breast cancer before the age of 50,” said Dr. Kahlenborn, the lead researcher.  

He suggests many researchers, particularly in the U.S., are “petrified” of telling the truth about the link between breast cancer and the pill for fear of losing their funding.

What’s more, media outlets typically try to ignore any harm caused by the pill because they don’t want to offend their pharmaceutical-company advertisers. For example, the media virtually ignored the Mayo findings.

“It’s disgusting,” Kahlenborn declared. “Women are dying. We put our study out there. Almost nobody knew about it, because it was basically buried by the media.”

Nevertheless, the deadly evidence continues to mount. A 2009 study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention showed a 3.2-fold increased risk of triple-negative breast cancer (the most difficult and deadly form of breast cancer to treat) in women taking contraceptive steroids. The same study showed an even more disturbing 6.4-fold increased risk of this deadly form of breast cancer in teenagers who started taking oral contraceptives before age 18.

A 2010 study reported in Cancer Research found a 2.9-fold increased risk for triple-negative tumors among older women (ages 45 to 64 years) who started using contraceptive drugs before they were 18.

Findings in this new study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center are consistent with previous data. Women currently taking pills with high doses of synthetic estrogen — 80 micrograms of ethinyl estradiol or 80 micrograms of mestranol — were about three times more likely to get breast cancer than women not on the pills. Current use of pills containing ethynodiol diacetate — a progestin — raised breast cancer risk 2.6 times. Low-dose pills did not appear to increase breast cancer risk.

“It’s generally believed that the pill raises risk in its current users, and then if you stop using it, within 10 years, the risk goes away,” Brind said. “But if you read the 2007 and 2010 Royal College of General Practitioners reports, the real effect in terms of getting breast and other cancers appears to be between 10 and 20 years down the road.”


Environmental Pollution

How and why would a woman’s natural hormones cause her to get a deadly disease? Trained as a steroid biochemist, Brind explains that birth-control pills are not hormones. Rather, they’re synthetic hormone-imitating drugs.

In other words, they’re man-made chemicals. “They wouldn’t work as a pill if they were actual hormones. They have to be made resistant to biological degradation,” Brind said.

Everything you eat, Brind went on to explain, first goes to your liver, where the liver chops it up.

“Half of the estrogen and progesterone that goes through a woman’s liver gets chopped up. Usually, it’s leaked into the liver slowly from the ovaries, and by the time it gets to the liver, it’s diluted. But if you take hormone-mimicking drugs by mouth, it all goes to the liver first. So to keep them from being chopped up by the liver, these contraceptive steroid drugs are specifically made to be as non-biodegradable as possible.”

Brind added, “That’s why birth-control pills are, I would say, the most significant chemical contaminant in the world when it comes to environmental pollution.”  

Authorities “like to point at plastic bottles, insecticides, herbicides — anything but the pill” as the source of pollution, Brind said. “But toxicologists around the world know it’s 17-alpha ethinyl estradiol, the synthetic estrogen drug in birth-control pills, that makes male fish and amphibians carry eggs in their testes and stimulates all other kinds of abnormalities you can find downstream in the ground water and in bodies of water near every major metropolitan area on earth where women ingest lots of pills.” 

Don’t hold your breath waiting to see that reported, either, anytime soon on the nightly news.

Sue Ellen Browder writes from Ukiah, California.