Scientific studies from around the world show that younger women, specifically those between the ages of 25 and 39, are increasingly being diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer—which has often spread further in the body by the time of diagnosis. A study on cancer rates in Geneva, Switzerland, published in 2007 found that breast cancer in this age group of women increased at the alarming rate of 46.7% per year from 2002 to 2004[i].
An analysis of breast cancer epidemiology in the United States noted a similarly accelerating diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer beginning in 1976 and extending to the last year for which data was available, 2009. The American findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in February 2013, noted that this trend was not seen in older women diagnosed with breast cancer. The authors did not speculate on any specific causes of this increase, instead attributing it to a vague multifactor etiology. They did make it clear that the results measured a true increase in the incidence of breast cancer and were not simply the outcome of better diagnostic techniques[ii].
British researchers affiliated with the organization Cancer Research UK reported that between1993 and 2010 there was an 11% growth in the incidence of breast cancer in women under the age of 50. Currently, one in five breast cancer cases in the UK are occurring in this younger female demographic. Unlike their American counterparts, however, Cancer Research UK did postulate possible causes for this exponential growth in aggressive breast cancer affecting younger women: use of hormonal contraceptives, women waiting until later in life to have children, and having fewer children or even no children overall.[iii]
The increased use of contraceptives has led to women being older at their first full-term birth or never giving birth, both of which are well-established risk factors for breast cancer.[iv] The pattern of increased incidence of breast cancer among younger women over the last four decades correlates well with the accelerating use of oral contraceptives over these same decades. However, the correlation is likely more than just an indirect effect linked to the timing of the first pregnancy carried to term.
The World Health Organization classifies the hormones used in the oral contraceptives as Group 1 carcinogens, right along with substances like arsenic and asbestos[v], so there is also a direct cancer-causing effect of oral contraceptives. This link was most dramatically illustrated in a study published in 2009 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer research Center, the University of Washington, and the National Cancer Institute looked at a large cohort of young women diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. They found that use of oral contraceptives doubled the risk of this aggressive breast cancer in women aged 41-45 and quadrupled the risk for women under the age of 40.[vi]
In addition to an increasing prevalence of hormonal contraceptive use, the last four decades have also seen an increasing incidence of induced abortion. Numerous scholarly studies have found a link between induced abortion and breast cancer.[vii] A 2007 study published in the Journal of Physicians and Surgeons found that the rate of induced abortions was the best predictor of the incidence of breast cancer in a population[viii]. The 2009 study linking oral contraceptives and aggressive breast cancer in young women also found that induced abortion was an independent risk factor for breast cancer.[ix]
We now have at least three independent research groups documenting the exponential rise of breast cancer among young women since the 1970s in both the United States and Europe. During this same time frame there has been a similar rise in the use of oral contraceptives and the incidence of induced abortions. Numerous studies published in medical literature link breast cancer in young women to the use of hormonal contraceptives and induced abortion. Therefore, while the rise in the number of young women diagnosed with breast cancer is most certainly the result of many factors, abortion and the use of hormonal contraceptives must be considered leading etiologies. These are risks that are easily modified by behavior, so one would expect the researchers who are alarmed by the growing number of young women with breast cancer would be vigorously encouraging women to avoid both contraceptives and abortion. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Cancer Research UK, the organization whose own report even mentioned the use of contraceptives as a possible etiology for the increase of breast cancer in young women, responded on May 31, 2013 by calling for more studies of chemotherapy and radiation protocols aimed at the younger patients. Professor Dianna Eccles, a principle researcher for Cancer Research UK, stated, “Research is the key to improving survival for these women and we urgently need trials to help us develop new treatments tailored specifically at this age group.”[x] Instead of looking at strategies of prevention, they are focusing on treatment after the damage is done.
In the United States there is a similar denial of the potentially lethal consequences of abortion and hormonal contraceptives use. The Department of Health and Human Services has mandated that all insurance programs must provide hormonal contraceptives as essential “preventive health care” with no regard for the adverse medical outcomes of their use. It has been well documented that there was a deliberate bias to exclude any objection to the inclusion of contraceptives in all health insurance plans.[xi]
When it comes to the link between abortion and breast cancer, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) still insists that the definitive word on this question was issued at their 2003 workshop that reported no association between abortion and breast cancer.[xii] However, the president of this workshop is one of the authors of the 2009 study previously mentioned that found a 40% increase in breast cancer after induced abortion. The NCI workshop has also been soundly criticized for its ideological bias that rejected all evidence which did not conform to preconceived views.[xiii]
What is clear is that young women are developing breast cancer in record numbers. There is solid evidence that both abortion and hormonal contraceptives are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, and this is particularly true in younger women. Yet too many health care professionals and health care policy makers regard providing abortions and contraception as sacrosanct and above criticism. Those who dare to speak the truth and highlight the significant risks of abortion or contraception are accused of waging a “war on women.” But this ideological intransigence is costing lives.
Those who think contraception and abortion are the lynchpins of women’s equality are wrong. It is demeaning to women to suggest that they cannot be valued or successful if their fertility is intact. It is time to give women the whole truth. Unnatural manipulations of the female reproductive system are dangerous. We cannot allow young women to continue to die because the facts challenge the norms of our contraceptive culture.
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Denise Hunnell, MD, is a Fellow of Human Life International, an international pro-life organization. She writes for HLI's Truth and Charity Forum.