The abortion–breast cancer hypothesis posits that induced abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer. In early pregnancy, levels of estrogen increase, leading to breast growth in preparation for lactation. The hypothesis proposes that if this process is interrupted by an abortion—before full maturity in the third trimester—then more relatively vulnerable immature cells could be left than there were prior to the pregnancy, resulting in a greater potential risk of breast cancer over time. This mechanism was first proposed and explored in rat studies conducted in the 1980s.
The abortion–breast cancer hypothesis has been the subject of extensive scientific inquiry, and the scientific community has concluded that abortion does not cause breast cancer. This consensus is supported by major medical bodies, including the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Pro-life activists have continued to advance a causal abortion–breast cancer link, and in the United States they have sought legal action to present abortion as a cause of breast cancer when counseling women seeking abortion. This political intervention culminated when the George W. Bush Administration altered the National Cancer Institute website to suggest that abortion might cause breast cancer. In response to public concern over this intervention, the NCI convened a 2003 workshop bringing together over 100 experts on the issue. This workshop concluded that while some studies reported a statistical correlation between breast cancer and abortion, the strongest scientific evidence from large prospective cohort studies demonstrates that abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk, and the positive findings were considered to be due to response bias.
The ongoing promotion of a link between abortion and breast cancer is seen by others as part of the pro-life "woman-centered" strategy against abortion. Pro-life groups maintain they are providing legally necessary informed consent, a concern shared by some politically conservative politicians. The abortion–breast cancer issue remains the subject of political controversy.
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