Christine Hall | Staff Writer | Tuesday, March 4, 2003
The scientists evaluated a number of studies on abortion and breast cancer, some as yet unpublished, and found that the most credible studies showed no causal link between breast cancer and abortion.
"I think it was fair, and it was balanced, and it reflected the science as it is today," said Barbara Vonderhaar, an NCI scientist who participated in the conference. "I can honestly say I think that they were the world's experts on the topic," she added.
Dorie Hightower, press officer for the NCI, said that one outcome of the conference is that the agency's website will restore a page stating that there is no abortion/breast cancer link. During the Clinton administration, the NCI website featured a page to that effect, which was replaced during the Bush administration with a page stating that research was conflicted on the cancer link.
According to information now posted on the NCI website, there are certain risk factors for breast cancer, like personal or family history of breast cancer, certain other breast conditions, genetic alterations, and late childbearing. Also, most breast cancers occur in women over 50 years of age, and black women are more at risk than white or Asian women, according to the NCI. But most women who develop breast cancer have none of these risk factors.
"We do know that a full-term...pregnancy decreases the risk," said Vonderhaar, pointing to research conducted by pathologist Jose Russo of Fox Chase Cancer Center. According to Vonderhaar, Russo has shown through animal studies that a hormone called HCG, produced during the first trimester of human pregnancy, is what's protective against cancer.
Russo participated in the NCI conference but would not later discuss the matter of abortion and breast cancer. "We are not interested to discuss that," Russo told CNSNews.com.
A spokesperson for the pro-abortion research group, the Guttmacher Institute, declined to comment on the NCI report until it is published. (The findings are subject to approval from a panel of NCI scientific advisers).
At least one scientist at the conference, Joel Brind, president of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, disagreed with the majority conclusion. Pro-life groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) and the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer were skeptical of the findings.
"A lot of studies do indicate that there's a link," including one of the NCI's own studies, conducted in 1994, said Pia de Solenni, a fellow with the FRC. "What we think the National Cancer Institute should be doing at this point is saying there is enough concern that maybe we need to put further funding and efforts into researching this question."
The 1994 NCI study showed that women who'd had abortions had 50 percent higher instances of breast cancer, said de Solenni.
"We're not hoping that women are definitely going to get breast cancer from having an abortion," said de Solenni. "However, if it's a fact that women are at greater risk, we think that should be brought to light. These women need to know, from a preventive aspect, to avoid the abortion or, if they've had an abortion, that they need to be on alert, that this might be a question that they have to face in their 30s instead of in their 50s and 60s."
Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer President Karen Malec went further, calling NCI "guilty of scientific misconduct.
"These organizations know that if they ever admit to a relationship between abortion and breast cancer, then they'll have to face the wrath of women," said Malec.
Hightower denied that the agency gets political pressure to reach certain conclusions. And if it did, she said, "We're a research agency; we don't cave into pressure from interest groups."
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