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Aborted pregnancy boosts breast cancer risk - study

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By David Liu, PHD

Sunday Aug 19, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- Inducing abortion to discontinue a woman's pregnancy may increase her risk of breast cancer, according to a study recently published in Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention.

The study led by A.R. Jiang of Division of Epidemiology Jiangsu Province Institute of Cancer Research in Janjing China showed induced abortion was associated with significantly increased risk of breast cancer.

The researchers found the association after analyzing data from 668 cases of breast cancer and 682 population-based controls in Jiangsu Province of China.

Specifically, premenopausal women who had chosen to abort pregnancy three or more times were at 141 percent increased risk of breast cancer. After adjustment for other factors, the risk increased by 55 percent.

Postmenopausal women who had ever had one induced abortion were at 104 percent increased risk for breast cancer. After adjustment for other risk factors, the risk was still increased by 82 percent.  Among postmenopausal women, more induced abortions were correlated with a higher risk.

Induced abortion means a pregnant woman chooses to discontinue her pregnancy. Another type of abortion is spontaneous abortion in which the abortion is caused by abnormal health condition(s).

In this study, spontaneous abortion or involuntarily discontinued pregnancy was not found significantly to influence the risk of breast cancer. However, postmenopausal women who had a history of spontaneous abortions still faced an increased risk.

The researchers concluded that inducing abortion to discontinue pregnancy may play an important role in the development of breast cancer and the association between induced abortion and breast cancer risk is affected by the menopausal status.

Although the study was not a trial meaning that the study by itself could not absolutely prove that induced abortion is the cause for the increase in the breast cancer risk in both pre-and post-menopausal women, prior evidence indicates that induced abortion, particularly in a later stage of pregnancy such as second trimester, does increase the risk.

Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, professor of surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Dr. Joel Brind, professor of human biology and endocrinology at Baruch College of the city of New York explain induced abortion prevents breast tissue from growing from immature type 1 and 2 lobules into mature type 3 and 4 lobules, which makes pregnant women more susceptible to carcinogenesis at extremely high levels of cancer-promoting estrogen during pregnancy.

Lanfranchi and Brind write, "During a normal pregnancy, estrogen levels rise 2000% by the end of the 1st trimester. During the first 2 trimesters, the breast grows because there is an increase in the number of immature type 1 and 2 lobules. During the 3rd trimester, the breast stops growing but lobules mature into Type 3 & 4 lobules. During the growth phase of pregnancy, the breasts become sore and tender." 

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