Sleep with your boyfriend, get pregnant, stop breast cancer!

I am eagerly awaiting the new “right to life” campaign aimed at high school girls, tentative slogan: “Sleep with your boyfriend, get pregnant, stop breast cancer!””

Well, truth be told, I don’t really know if that’s going to be their next campaign but it would be the next logical step in their pious crusade to protect the health of women. To hear the “right to life” folks tell it, an ongoing conspiracy has prevented women from learning about the association of breast cancer to abortion. Indeed the Coalition on Abortion Breast Cancer (ABC) was formed for no other purpose than to disseminate this momentous news.

Of course, the consensus among cancer experts, epidemiologists and public health officials is that abortion does not cause breast cancer, but no matter. ABC has embarked on a campaign to highlight this putative link. Not surprisingly self identified antiabortion physicians and scientists have been enthusiastic participants.

Joel Brind, PhD, professor of biology at Baruch College has thoughtfully provided the ABC folks with an analysis of a “bombshell” paper by Jessica Dolle (Risk Factors for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer in Women Under the Age of 45 Years) published in the April 2009 issue of Cancer Epidemiology. As Prof. Brind explains:

The Dolle study is based on a population of 897 cancer patients diagnosed under age 45 and 1,569 controls with a similar age distribution, all from the greater Seattle, WA area. The subjects were all subjects of earlier studies published by the Daling group during the 1990’s … for whom breast tumor tissue specimens were still available to do complete analyses for 3 prognostic tumor markers, namely, estrogen receptors (ER), progesterone receptors (PR) and HER2 receptors. The present study divides the patients thus examined into two groups: Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), i.e., those negative for all 3 markers (187 cases) and all other combinations (710 cases; referred to as non-TNBC).

The study was specifically designed to look at the association between breast cancer and use of oral contraceptives. As part of the study, though, the authors looked at confounding factors that might impact the incidence of breast cancer. What excited the antiabortion crowd was the following table.

The bottom entry in the table looks at the impact of abortion history on subsequent development of breast cancer. The relative risk is 1.4 meaning that women who had had an abortion were 40% more likely to develop breast cancer than those who had never had an abortion.

The results were not statistically significant, but no matter. The “right to life” folks are not bothered by such trivial details. Because of their profound commitment to the health of women they want to do everything possible to prevent death from the scourge of breast cancer.

But wait! There’s more information in the table, and it is statistically significant. The best way to lower your risk of breast cancer is to have a baby before age 20. Another equally sound strategy is to have 4 or more children. Just imagine how far a girl could lower her breast cancer risk if she had 4 children before age 20!

This is important news. And since they are so concerned about preventing breast cancer, surely the folks at ABC will soon be embarking on a campaign to promote teen pregnancy. Not only should teens get pregnant, they should get pregnant over and over again. That’s the best way to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in the future and the folks at ABC feel that preventing breast cancer is their most important priority.

But wait! I can find no mention on the ABC website, or on any antiabortion website of the protective effect of teen pregnancy on developing breast cancer. What could that mean? Could it be that their pious concern for the health of women is nothing more than a bald faced and cynical attempt to prevent women from having abortions? Could it be that they really don’t care about the future health of women at all? It could be, and that would force us to a very sad realization. Indeed, there’s really no way to avoid the conclusion that the antiabortion folks who promote a link between abortion and breast cancer are nothing more than hypocrites, who don’t care about breast cancer (since they don’t mention the protective effect of teen pregnancy).

In fact, we may be forced to conclude that they don’t care about the health of women at all. They never mention at all the most important health effect of abortion: even if it were true that abortion raised a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 40%, it doesn’t change the fact that carrying a pregnancy to term raises her risk of death by 1500%!