Some anti-abortion groups are not happy with the September 2001 issue of Redbook. In an article, “Seven cancer facts you need to know,” Redbook raises the issue of whether a woman’s risk of cancer is affected by having an abortion. The article dismisses the claim as a “persistent rumor” that is not based on sound science.
Writing for WorldNetDaily.Com, Diana Lynne outlines what she apparently believes is a widespread conspiracy to hide from women the very real cancer risks from abortion. Lynne points to 28 studies published since 1957 linking abortion with breast cancer.
Those studies certainly exist, but Lynne leaves out an important point — none of them find statistically significant links between breast cancer and abortion. Most of the studies only include very small numbers of women, and typically only find increased risks of cancer in the 20 to 40 percent range.
That level of increased risk might sound impressive, but in epidemiological terms it is all but insignificant. Epidemiological methods simply aren’t able to reliably measure such very small levels of increased risk. If a large study found that women had a 100 percent or 200 percent increased risk, then there might be cause for concern and further research, but a 20 to 40 percent increase in such small studies is essentially the same as saying there is no link at all.
Meanwhile, Lynne reports that in north Dakota, a lawsuit is going to trial in which the plaintiff is trying to force the Red River Women’s clinic to inform women about studies linking breast cancer and abortion. The sad thing is that this might succeed since there is a long history in both the media and courts of treating such small increased risk levels as if they are capable of reliably implying causation (much of the research claiming that cell phones might cause brain cancer, for example, is based on similarly low levels of increased risk).
Redbook magazine ‘bending the truth’? Diana Lynne, WorldNetDaily.Com, September 11, 2001.
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