Women's Group Accuses Lancet, Oxford Scientists of Misrepresenting Abortion-Breast Cancer Research
Review Excluded Studies Reporting Large Risk Elevations

Karen Malec
April 14, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

The Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer slammed the British journal Lancet and Oxford scientists for misrepresenting published research linking abortion with increased breast cancer risk (ABC link). Valerie Beral and a mere handful of colleagues falsely claimed to have conducted a collaborative reanalysis of data from 53 studies. Twenty-nine studies report risk elevations, but Beral inaccurately told reporters their paper shows abortion doesn't adversely impact risk.

News accounts didn't reveal that Beral's group found a significant 11% risk increase among retrospective studies and a significant 7% risk reduction among prospective studies.[1] Retrospective research relies on women's reports of their abortions, but prospective research relies on medical records of abortions. Beral's group largely rested its ABC denial on three prospective studies whose authors were criticized for misclassifying thousands of post-abortive women as non-aborting.[2,3,4]

Beral's team used unscientific means to selectively exclude ten out of 16 published studies reporting significant risk increases. These included those whose original authors: 1) Couldn't be found; 2) No longer had the original data; 3) Decided his or her data weren't reliable; or 4) Didn't want to participate.

"If scientists accepted Beral's irregular methods," declared Karen Malec, the coalition's president, "they'd reject germ theory because Ignaz Semmelweis and Louis Pasteur can't be found either."

Dr. Semmelweis lost his hospital privileges and faced ridicule during the 1840's because he said doctors were causing women to die of childbed fever. Doctors were visiting the morgues and then attending women in labor without first washing their hands. Doctors only accepted Semmelweis' advice after scientists recognized Pasteur's germ theory in the 1870's.

In a scathing critique of Beral's review, Joel Brind, president of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, observed that scientists excluded 15 studies "for unscientific reasons" which, if averaged together, would show an 80% risk increase among post-abortive women.[5]

Beral et al. argued that retrospective research is flawed because women "cannot be trusted" to accurately report their abortions. Their theory rests on the assumption that women agree to participate as study subjects, but then decide to lie to researchers about their abortion histories. A more rational argument is that women who don't want to reveal their abortions to researchers will refuse to participate in ABC studies in the first place.

"This is the third time that Oxford's unorthodox methods have misled women about the ABC link," said Mrs. Malec. [1,3,6] "With this review, they and their Lancet editors will be responsible for many deaths."

The group published a widely reported review of 47 studies in 30 countries in the Lancet in 2002 and concluded that breast cancer rates could be cut by more than one-half if women increase their childbearing and breastfeeding.[7]

"Perhaps Beral's group, a recipient of United Nations Population Fund grants, can explain how women should breastfeed their dead fetuses," said Mrs. Malec. "Women can't both increase their childbearing and abort their pregnancies. For these reasons, any doctor, scientist or journalist who unequivocally declares that abortion is unrelated to increased risk for breast cancer is revealing his bad faith by doing so."