How National Cancer Institute Scientists Betrayed Women
Abortion and Breast Cancer: The Scientific Debate That Never Happened

Karen Malec
March 11, 2003
Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer
P.O. Box 152, Palos Heights, IL 60463
1-877-803-0102 (toll free)
Reproduced with Permission

Scientists attending the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) workshop in late February entitled, "Early Reproductive Events and Breast Cancer Workshop," were charged with the responsibility of conducting a comprehensive review of the research associating induced abortion with increased risk of breast cancer and debating its merits. Although some of the attendees' own research found significant risk elevations, these scientists disavowed their earlier research and, with a sweep of their hands, announced that an "induced abortion is not associated with increased breast cancer risk." This supposed finding was classified as level 1, meaning "well-established." This contradicts the overwhelming biological and epidemiological evidence supporting a positive relationship.

It is significant that the scientists did not challenge the biological rationale for the abortion-breast cancer link. Scientists recognize that estrogen overexposure is related to most of the known risk factors for breast cancer, that women are dramatically overexposed to estrogen starting early in pregnancy, that estrogen is a tumor promoter and that it stimulates breast cells to multiply. They hypothesize that only a third trimester process provides protection from estrogen overexposure by transforming breast cells into cancer resistant cells. It is not possible for scientists to refute this hypothesis. It makes too much physiological sense.

For seasoned observers of the abortion-breast cancer (ABC) link, what transpired at the NCI is not at all surprising, considering the well-documented history of scientific misconduct and deception, which has plagued this research since the publication of the first study in 1957.1 The agency receives its funding from Congress. It is not immune to political pressures. The NCI has been accused of publishing blatant lies about the ABC link on its website.2,3,4,5

Nevertheless, the research is a medical and political time bomb, which will inevitably detonate sometime within the next decade as the Roe v. Wade generation ages and the number of cases of invasive breast cancer continues to surge. Sooner or later, women will hold the NCI's feet to the fire and demand answers to their questions about the nation's out-of-control breast cancer rates.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the agency is losing the battle against cancer. The incidence of lung cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer and breast cancer are all surging. The agency'srevised statistics show that breast cancer rates have climbed .6% yearly since 1987. How does the NCI plan to reduce the incidence of the disease? The author, Sharon Begley, reported that scientists want still more funding for further research.6

One would not know by reading about the workshop on the NCI's website, but at least one scientist disagrees with the majority, Joel Brind, PhD, an endocrinologist and biologist affiliated with Baruch College of the City University of New York. Despite the fact that he was the lead author of the only quantitative and comprehensive review of the research, his minority report to the NCI was not sought.7 Moreover, the workshop was concluded prematurely and abruptly without his having had an opportunity to dissent.

Brind points to staggering evidence of a causal relationship: 1) Twenty-nine out of 38 epidemiological studies reporting risk elevations; 2) Sixteen out of 17 statistically significant studies showing increased risk; 3) Thirteen out of 15 American studies finding risk elevations; 4) Seven studies reporting a more than twofold elevation in risk; 5) An animal study showing that more aborted rats develop breast cancer after exposure to a carcinogen than virgin rats and rats with full term pregnancies8; and 6) A sound biological explanation for the link.[Reference]

Even though the workshop's alleged purpose, according to NCI Director Andrew Von Eschenbach, was to formally evaluate and discuss the medical literature, the agency's scientists thumbed their noses at women and orchestrated a radically different scenario. Only one viewpoint was presented - that there is no association between abortion and the disease.

Brind recently explained what transpired at the workshop in an interview with Agape Press. He said there was,

"no discussion, really, of the merits of any preceding data. I asked a couple of questions, but that was it. Nobody else was interested in discussing the merits or demerits of previous research. The answer I got when I asked, 'How can you do this (deny an association between abortion and breast cancer) despite all the data going the other way?' was, 'There's widespread agreement that (it) is true, that previous research is flawed.

"So you ask a scientific question, you get a political answer. It's a very interesting state of play. The only thing that really surprised me was the sheer bluntness of this political assault. It was very clear they were going to do whatever it took to stamp out the abortion/breast cancer link once and for all from the public's mind. ... It was all just a very big fix.

"This is what's happened any time any credible research has appeared. There's been a backlash study to say, "oh, it isn't true" for one reason or another ... and they've kept raising the political stakes and the level of political action."9

The medical experts selected to attend the workshop were not independent of the agency. On the contrary, they depend upon grants from the NCI or other federal agencies to conduct their research. Brind reported that some experts confidentially expressed concerns that they would be denied grants if they argued in favor of an ABC link.

Still other invited scientists are known to hold strong pro-abortion views. Two have appeared as expert witnesses for abortion providers: Julie Palmer and Lynn Rosenberg. They have testified in cases contesting parental notification laws in Alaska and Florida, respectively.

Leslie Bernstein of the University of Southern California made the only formal presentation at the workshop, and she presented the view that abortion is unrelated to breast cancer risk, despite the fact that her research has primarily addressed the protective effects of exercise and obesity. She revealed her fervent, pro-abortion bent when she said, "There are so many other messages we can give women about lifestyle modification and the impact of lifestyle and risk that I would never be a proponent of going around and telling them that, that you know, having babies is the way to reduce your risk."10

Never mind that pregnant women, individuals with a family history of the disease and others might want that information. Never mind that American women have an extraordinarily high 12.5% lifetime risk of the disease. Never mind that tax dollars have paid for research showing that reproductive risk factors are related to a majority of the cases of breast cancer. Never mind that the best way for a woman to reduce her risk is by having more children starting at an early age and breastfeeding them.

Is it any wonder that 211,300 cases of invasive breast cancer are expected this year an increase of almost 8,000 cases over last year's estimate? Bernstein presented a new ABC study on Day 2 of the workshop showing a negative relationship, but flatly refused to make her data available to the participants. The three-day workshop was videotaped, but only Days 1 and 3 were made available on the NCI website. Day 2 was omitted altogether. It is the same day that Bernstein announced her new research.

Other scientists presented new research, as well, including Mads Melbye and Polly Newcomb. It was a fraud that their studies weren't circulated among the scientists for their evaluation before the start of the workshop.

Melbye was the lead researcher in the Danish study, Melbye et al. 1997.11 Partially funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, it has been widely used to dismiss 29 out of 38 studies reporting risk elevations. Even though NCI scientist Dr. Edison Liu once told Congressmen that "one study doesn't make a conclusion," scientists at the workshop largely used this study to support their final conclusions.12

Melbye et al. 1997 has been severely criticized for its misclassification of 60,000 women who had abortions as not having had abortions. This team explicitly corrected the errors in its statistical methodology in a 1999 study which found a more than twofold increased risk among women who have pre-term births.13 These findings contradict the findings of the 1997 study. As one physician explained, a pre-term birth differs very little from an abortion, except with respect to the mother's intentions.

Melbye et al. 1997 reported in the "Results" section of the paper that breast cancer risk rises 3% per week of gestation before an abortion is performed. This group found a statistically significant 89% risk elevation among women procuring abortions after 18 weeks. Not surprisingly, Melbye announced at the workshop that he "re-analyzed" his data, and this finding is no longer present in his research.

Scientists attending the workshop were seemingly anxious to persuade women of a short-term breast cancer risk associated with pregnancy because they concluded, "Breast cancer risk is transiently increased after a term pregnancy."

This is a temporary risk, which is much smaller than that of the long-term abortion-breast cancer risk. It only exists among women who delay their first full term pregnancies (FFTP) until after age 25.14

Is it the objective of NCI scientists to eliminate the short and long term breast cancer risks? Or is their objective to discourage term pregnancies? If it's to reduce risk, then why not embark on a public health awareness effort to educate married women about the benefits of an early FFTP before age 25?

It isn't an argument that serves the abortion industry well. After all, the industry and related advocacy groups (i.e., the National Organization for Women) are in the business of delaying FFTP's.

The workshop statement also said, "A nulliparous (childless) woman has approximately the same risk as a woman with a FFTP around age 30." In fact, the risk of a woman with a late FFTP ultimately does fall. A pregnancy is protective at any age.

The workshop statement was submitted to the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) Board of Scientific Advisors and Board of Scientific Counselors, which "unanimously" rubber-stamped the findings of the majority. The boards are made up of NCI scientists and scientists dependent on NCI grants, so they cannot be considered independent of the agency's influence.

The scientists offered women further contradictory conclusions. While asserting that abortion is not related to increased risk, they also said: 1) "Early age at first term birth is related to lifetime decrease in breast cancer risk;" 2) "Increasing parity (childbirth) is associated with a long-term risk reduction, even when controlling for age at first birth;" and 3) "Long duration of lactation (breastfeeding) provides a small additional reduction in breast cancer risk after consideration of age at and number of term pregnancies."

It is only logical that abortion impacts breast cancer risk by changing women's childbearing patterns. The failure of scientists to at least acknowledge abortion's undeniable role in this is both intellectually dishonest and a grave disservice to women.

Can women trust intellectually dishonest scientists to evaluate research supporting a second way that abortion causes breast cancer - an independent link between abortion and the disease? Such a link would mean that the woman who has an abortion has a greater risk of breast cancer than she would have if she had not become pregnant. In other words, an abortion leaves a woman with a greater number of cancer vulnerable cells than what she had before she became pregnant.

Malcolm Pike, the lead author of the first American study, Pike et al. 1981, is a respected researcher and Bernstein's colleague at the University of Southern California.15 He and his colleagues found a 140% risk elevation among women choosing to abort. During an interview with a Chicago Tribune reporter, Judy Peres, Pike asserted that his work was flawed because of an alleged problem called "report bias theory."

Proponents of this theory say that interview-based studies are flawed because healthy women lie about their abortion histories, but not patients. They argue that only sick women can be trusted to tell the truth. They claim this is the only reason why more patients appear to have had abortions than healthy women.

Even though no scientists presently claim to have ever found plausible evidence of report bias, scientists say taxpayers should discard more than two dozen studies representing nearly a half century of research. Why? Because they say so! Do the nation's scientists know how to practice science? What right do they have to ask taxpayers for more grants for future research?

Chris Kahlenborn, M.D. observed in his book, Breast Cancer: Its Link to Abortion and the Birth Control Pill, that if there is such a thing as report bias in interview-based studies, then "thousands of other studies in medicine might now be deemed 'worthless.' Every time one had a disease or 'effect' that was caused by a controversial risk factor (i.e., one of the causes), the study might be considered invalid based upon 'recall bias.'"1617

Undoubtedly, this would include AIDS research, research associating suicide attempts with history of child abuse, research linking cervical cancer with multiple sex partners, etc. It amounts to billions of dollars in research purchased by taxpayers. Will scientists junk that research too?

The entire workshop was a sham.


1 Segi M et al. "An Epidemiological Study on Cancer in Japan." GANN, Vol. 48, Supplement: April, 1957. [Back]

2 "National Cancer Institute shamelessly carries on cover-up," Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, Press Release, March 20th, 2002; [Back]

3 Joel Brind, Ph.D., "Latest web page from the National Cancer Institute: A well cooked bowl of factoids," RFM News, March 23, 2002; [Back]

4 "National Cancer Institute pulls inaccurate web page repudiating abortion-breast cancer link," Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, Press Release, July 2, 2002; [Back]

5 Joel Brind, Ph.D., "NCI's new ABC "facts": Fewer lies: U.S. National Cancer lnstitute Changes Website Under Congressional Pressure," AbortionBreast Cancer Quarterly; Fall, 1999; [Back]

6 "New Statistics Show Increase in Cancer Rates, "Sharon Begley, Wall Street Journal (Oct. 16, 2002) pp. B1 & B14. [Back]

7 Brind J, Chinchilli, VM, Severs WB, Summy-Long J. Induced abortion as an independent risk factor for breast cancer: a comprehensive review and meta-analysis. JNCI (1996) 50:481-96. [Back]

8 Russo J, Russo IH. Susceptibility of the mammary gland to carcinogenesis. Am J Pathol (1980) 100(2):497-512. [Back]

9 Pat Centner, "NCI Workshop 'Stamps Out' Abortion/Breast Cancer Link/Researcher Calls It 'A Very Big Fix,'" AFA Online, March 7, 2003. [Back]

10 Rachael Myers Lowe, "NCI Scientific Panel Concludes Abortion Has No Impact on Breast Cancer Risk," Cancer Page, March 3, 2003. Available at; Visited April 1, 2003. [Back]

11 Melbye M, Wohlfahrt J, Olson JH, Frisch M, Westergaard T, Helweg-Larsen K, Andersen PK. Induced abortion and the risk of breast cancer. N Engl J Med (1997) 336(2):81-5. [Back]

12 Dr. Edison Liu, M.D. testimony to the Committee on Commerce regarding "The State of Cancer Research," (July 20, 1998). [Back]

13 Brind J, Chinchilli V. N Engl J Med (1997) 336:1834. [Back]

14 Melbye et al. Br J Cancer (1999) 80(3-4):609-13. [Back]

15 Lambe et al. (1994) N Engl J Med 331:5-9. [Back]

16 Pike et al. (1981) Br J Cancer 43:72-6. [Back]

17 Kahlenborn C, Breast Cancer: Its Link to Abortion and the Birth Control Pill, One More Soul (2000) p. 282-83. [Back]