Abortion & Breast Cancer: The Danish Study
The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a
Danish abortion study by Melbye et al. The lead author told the
Wall Street Journal: "I think this settles it definitely.
There is no
overall increased risk of breast cancer for the average woman
who has an abortion." In an accompanying editorial an official of
the National Cancer Lnstitute stated, "The clear central finding is
that there is no overall risk." The pro-abortion media picked up
this description of the study and headlined it across this nation
and the world. It was exactly what they wanted to hear, and they
swallowed these comments without any attempt to evaluate
whether or not they were valid.
We now have an exhaustive study of this research article by the
man who is probably the most qualified judge of the validity of
such studies in the world, Dr. Joel Brind. Let's mention a few
All of the above may become a bit confusing. Truly this is a
field where those without in-depth expertise in statistical medical
analyses should tread very lightly. Brind has such expertise and
rather thoroughly demolishes the Melbye study as being
essentially invalid and drawing invalid conclusions. For those of
you who want more specific detail, Dr. Brind's tightly reasoned
critique is available for $5.00 through Americans United for Life,
343 S. Dearborn St., Suite 1804, Chicago, IL 60604. Phone
- Of the 1.5 million women studied, 1.2 million had neither
any exposure to induced abortion nor have developed breast
- Of the 281,000 women who did have an induced abortion,
most are still too young to have developed breast cancer, and
some are still teenagers.
- Of the 10,000 women who have developed breast cancer,
most are too old to have their abortion histories on record, as
the Danish Registry only goes back to 1973, about when
abortion was legalized. At that time the oldest women were
already 38 years old.
- Of the 1,338 women who had abortions and did develop
breast cancer, 81% had their abortion recorded at age 30 or
over, and 54% at age 35 or over. As we know, by far, most
abortions are done on younger women. The women younger
than 30 years who developed breast cancer are only listed as
having breast cancer without any record of having had
abortions. Other equally important data is omitted or de-emphasized.
There were a few women who had abortions as
teenagers who had already developed breast cancer, and they
had a 29% increased risk, but they were too few in number to
be statistically significant.
- The study did demonstrate a statistically significant trend of
a 3% risk increase for each additional week of gestation
before abortion. This rose to an 89% increased risk for
abortions after 18 weeks. Interestingly, this finding in the
study was not mentioned in the study's "conclusions".
- Much data was missing from the paper, particularly the
effect of other independent variables.
- Previous studies confirming a relationship between abortion
and breast cancer are attacked or misrepresented.
- There is an egregious distortion of the age distribution of
- The author falsely misrepresents other medical studies,
saying that his "result" is very much in line with the results
of previous retrospective cohort studies. Actually, three of
the four such studies he cites are entirely irrelevant. Two of
these concern only miscarriages, and the third almost
entirely so while not presenting any data relating specifically
to induced abortion.
- The author attacks the Brind meta-analysis, which was
published last fall, as unreliable due to "response bias".
Such criticism has been thoroughly discredited in a number
of major studies. He criticizes Brind's meta-analysis as
being from 30 studies, when in fact it analyzed the entire
world literature of more than twice that number.
Posted 9 Sep 2000.
Copyright 1997 by Life Issues Institute.
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