Study finds no link of abortion, cancer

Results based on cases of 83,000 women around the world since 1950s

March 26, 2004|By Rosie Mestel | Rosie Mestel,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Having an abortion or a miscarriage does not raise a woman's risk of developing breast cancer later in life, according to a large study published today in the medical journal, the Lancet.

The report, written by an international consortium of scientists, analyzed 53 studies involving 83,000 women with breast cancer. It found that these women with breast cancer were no more likely to have had a miscarriage or abortion earlier in life than other women.

The report is the most exhaustive ever on the topic of breast cancer, abortion and miscarriage, containing at least 90 percent of the world's studies, said Dr. Valerie Beral, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford in England and one of the paper's lead authors.

Some studies have detected a heightened breast cancer rate in women who have had abortions, while others have not. Last year, a workshop of more than 100 scientists convened by the National Cancer Institute concluded that there was no evidence of a heightened risk.

Beral and colleagues took a closer look at the 53 studies and grouped them according to the quality of their design.

The best and most reliable studies were of a "prospective" design, in which abortion records were obtained for the women before their diagnosis of breast cancer. The studies accounted for 44,000 women.

In these studies, the accuracy of reporting abortions and miscarriages should be similar between the women who later developed breast cancer and the healthy women they were compared with.

When examined as a group, the prospective studies showed no link between abortions or miscarriages and breast cancer.

Less reliable were studies known as "retrospective" studies, which accounted for 39,000 of the women. In these, women who knew they had breast cancer were asked if they had ever had an abortion or miscarriage in their past.

The problem with these studies is that women with breast cancer may have been more likely to report an abortion or miscarriage than the healthy women they were compared with, because they were searching for a cause for their illness.

"People who have a serious illness scour their lives more thoroughly than people who haven't," said Dr. John Glaspy, oncologist and researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles' Jonsson Cancer Center.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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