The National Cancer Institute (NCI) Web site until recently informed visitors that most conclusive studies indicated “no association between abortion and breast cancer.” Now, the site says that the evidence is inconclusive. The site has been changed to read “…the possible relationship between abortion and breast cancer has been examined in over thirty published studies since 1957. Some studies have reported statistically significant evidence of an increased risk of breast cancer in women who have had abortions, while others have merely suggested an increased risk. Other studies have found no increase in risk among women who had an interrupted pregnancy.”
Because NCI’s change is not attributed to any recent study, many concerned with reproductive rights believe that the government-sponsored Institute is merely accommodating the hard-line anti-abortion stance of the Bush administration. Raquel Castellanos Miller, executive director of Montana’s Blue Mountain Clinic, is one such critic.
“There have never been any confirmed studies linking breast cancer to abortion. Ever,” she says.
Castellanos Miller points out that NCI has not changed its wording to say that abortion may cause breast cancer, but has only created confusion with its new statement.
“This is very Orwellian. This is not some late-breaking medical news. This is politically motivated misinformation…They haven’t [said] ‘There is a link.’ What they’re doing is double- speak—taking the information and framing it in a way that sets doubt.”
But Gregg Trude, executive director of Montana’s Right to Life in Helena, is convinced that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer.
“There’s a lot of evidence showing that there is a link,” Trude says. “I read a book put out by the Catholic Medical Association and their booklet showed that if a woman under the age of 20 terminates her first pregnancy by abortion, she has an 800 percent higher chance of getting breast cancer.”
Deidra Behune, a nurse practitioner with firsthand experience in the field, argues that linking breast cancer to abortion is ludicrous. “An abortion is a surgical procedure called a D&C [dilation and curettage], which is also done in doctors’ offices all the time for women who have many other kinds of problems.”
Behune says that D&Cs are most often called for in cases of extreme uterine bleeding, at which time the procedure is employed to scrape the lining of the uterus in order to give the new lining a chance to grow more normally.
“This is the same procedure [as for an abortion] and it’s done all the time, but nobody argues that that is linked to breast cancer,” Behune says.
Castellanos Miller says the NCI Web site change won’t influence the information her clinic offers. Asked what she would tell a woman coming in to ask about a link between abortion and breast cancer, Castellanos Miller says the clinic will tell that patient exactly what they’ve been telling her: “We will tell her there is no medical evidence supporting that claim and that it is a scare tactic…to diminish a women’s right to choose and to be empowered by knowing all the medically accurate information.”