It seems to be a little known fact that one of the best ways to reduce a woman’s risk of having breast cancer in her later years is to have a baby while she is young. There are many factors that are reputedly related to the development of breast cancer, including family history, obesity, hormone therapy, birth control pills, alcohol consumption, radiation, and amount of exercise, but among these nulliparity is a very important one.

Nulliparity? You haven’t heard of it? Surely you don’t have that! In layman’s terms, nulliparity simply means that you have never borne a child. Having a full-term baby at an early age turns out to be one of the best cancer preventives. Now at last we can understand something that has long been noted: that nuns have a higher breast cancer incidence than the rest of the female population.

In December, 2002, the federal government in its Report on Carcinogens for the first time added steroidal estrogens used in estrogen replacement therapy and oral contraceptives to its official list of “known” human carcinogens.

At each monthly period the immature cells in the breast of the childless woman are stimulated by the estrogen her body produces during the cycle. Similarly, lack of exercise, obesity, and alcohol are believed to increase estrogen levels. If she takes birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, she is again flooding those sensitive, immature cells with estrogen.

The reason that having a child reduces the cancer risk can now be easily understood. In Breast Cancer Risks and Prevention, a booklet published by the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, it states: “If a woman does not have a full term pregnancy (meaning she is childless or nulliparous) she has increased risk for breast cancer since she never develops (mature, cancer-resistant) type 3 and 4 lobules. If she has children later in life (after age 30) she has increased risk because, for most of her menstrual life, her estrogen has been stimulating immature (cancer-vulnerable) type 1 and 2 breast lobules. If she has children as a teenager, she has decreased risk of breast cancer since her breast tissue matures very early in her menstrual life to type 3 and 4 lobules.”

Put more simply, an early pregnancy matures the breast tissue as it prepares to produce milk for the coming baby. Mature cells are much less likely to become cancerous than immature cells.

During the first trimester a woman’s estrogen level increases by 2000%. The rate of cell division is increased by estrogen and her breasts enlarge. It is not until the last trimester that these cells will differentiate into mature cells, resistant to cancer.

Since 1957 a number of studies have shown an increased risk of breast cancer in women who have had an induced abortion. Finally, in 1996, Dr. Joel Brind did a comprehensive synthesis of all the studies that had ever been done on an abortion/breast cancer link and found that women who had an abortion before their first full term pregnancy had a 50% increased risk of developing breast cancer.

In 2003 breast cancer expert Angela Lanfranchi, M.D., F.A.C.S, testified before the Massachusetts Joint Health Care Committee in support of an Act Relative to Patient’s Rights about a possible abortion/breast cancer link. She said, “It is my professional opinion, based upon my professional training, experience, and my study of the relevant peer-reviewed medical literature, that an overwhelming preponderance of the evidence indicates that induced abortion increases risk of breast cancer.”

A medical text she uses, The Breast: Comprehensive Management of Benign and Malignant Diseases by Bland and Copeland (1998) states that a first trimester abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. In a revealing case history, Lanfranchi tells about twin sisters, one of whom had several abortions and no children. She developed breast cancer at the age of 35. The other twin, who had one child and no abortions, had a benign breast biopsy at 36. The twins had very different risks in spite of identical genes.

I heard Dr. Lanfranchi speak once and she made an analogy that stuck with me. It is quite possible that statistics might show that people who carry matches are more likely to develop lung cancer. Does that mean that the matches cause cancer? No. The matches light the cigarettes that cause the cancer. Similarly, statistics show that people who have abortions are more likely to have breast cancer, but that sounds far-fetched on the face of it. Do abortions cause breast cancer? No. Abortions cause tissue changes in breast tissue which produce many more places where breast cancer is likely to develop.

Do you imagine that the evidence that abortion probably increases the risk of breast cancer has been welcomed by those with vested interests (monetarily or politically) in abortion? When Dr. Lanfranchi asked her medical society, the American Society of Breast Surgeons, to address the issue she was told it was “too political.” Some publications have provided fair coverage while others accuse the political right of fearmongering in order to protect Roe v Wade.

Abortion increases the risk of breast cancer in two ways: (1) by postponing the first full term pregnancy, and (2) by abruptly interrupting the normal progression of breast cells to mature breast tissue after they have been activated by the hormones of pregnancy.

In 2003, in another retrospective analysis, 18 out of 21 studies showed that women who take oral contraceptives prior to their first birth incur a markedly increased risk of developing breast cancer. Do you imagine that the announcement that steroidal estrogens (as in birth control pills and hormone therapy) are human carcinogens has been welcomed by those who manufacture drugs or ply our young women with The Pill? As I was researching this article I found a 12-hour old news report that women are abandoning hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in record numbers since the Women’s Health Initiative abandoned their research project in July 2002. Early analysis of the WHI data showed that HRT seemed to provide no benefit for the heart but might increase the risk of cancer, especially ovarian and breast cancer. This proposed 15-year research project was, therefore, dropped before completion.

Recently one more medical group has come on board as recognizing a link between abortion and breast cancer. Janet Orient, M.D., executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, states: “There is a considerable volume of evidence supporting this link, which, moreover, is highly plausible. We believe that a reasonable person would want to be informed of the existence of this evidence before making her decision.”

As in the case of the tobacco/lung cancer issue, it has been suggested that it will finally be the lawyers who will force the medical community to address the abortion/breast cancer link. As of October, 2003, the very first abortion/breast cancer lawsuit has been settled in Philadelphia for an undisclosed “significant” amount. The 17-year-old patient sued her abortion provider for neglecting to warn her about the physical and emotional risks of abortion.

As long ago as 1986 two scientists from the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease control wrote in the British journal, Lancet, that “induced abortion before first term pregnancy increases the risk of breast cancer.” Evidence continues to accumulate. Breast cancer rates continue to escalate.

The evidence is more than sufficient to justify warning women of possible risks when they take steroidal estrogens or contemplate an abortion, especially abortion of a first pregnancy. Political correctness should not keep our young women from learning about the real risks associated with what have been considered among the blessings of modern medicine-–abortion and hormone therapy.

The lawsuits have just begun. How many more will it take to get the facts out there?