A Link Between Abortions and Breast Cancer?

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PHILADELPHIA: A woman is 30 percent more likely to develop breast cancer if she has had an abortion, according to a new study in the October Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Using a research technique known as meta-analysis, researchers collected information from 23 studies involving 25,967 women with breast cancer and 34,977 without it then reanalyzed the old data to find out how many had had abortions. "Although this study is not as good as others that have come before it," says TIME's science writer Christine Gorman, "there is definitely something there that needs to be looked into." Gorman notes that abortions are probably not the main cause of breast cancer. Other factors such as fat content in the diet, hormonal levels, and when women have babies will affect the likelihood of developing breast cancer. "Researchers have known for years that women who become mothers before they are 30 seem to enjoy some protection against breast cancer," says Gorman. "But no one knows how pregnancy produces that benefit." One possible explanation: The number of cells in the breast increase dramatically early in the pregnancy, and they are especially vulnerable to malignancy. These cells are helped to mature later in the gestation when the body releases protective hormones. An abortion would interrupt the production of these protective hormones. Terence Nelan