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Setting It Straight: Abortion and Breast Cancer

When it comes to certain hot topics, claims about what science has or hasn't proven tend to be thrown around more in the service of one position or another than anything else.

Somebody may tell you that global warming is absolutely real, for example, and then someone else says it absolutely isn't. Often it's hard to know what the real scoop is.

Take abortion, for example. Now, we here at Moment of Science aren't taking a position on abortion one way or another. What we can do, though, is set the record straight on a particular notion that has been floating around recently: namely, the idea that having an abortion increases a woman's risk for breast cancer. Is this true?

No, it isn't. This is the latest word from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, where in February of 2003 a meeting of researchers, clinicians, and epidemiologists was convened at the behest of Congress to answer this and other questions.

Some initial studies had suggested a link, but more comprehensive studies disagreed. Congress wanted to set the record straight. The NCI looked at all the data and announced: no link.

However, they also announced, having a baby reduces a woman's risk of breast cancer. Why is that? It isn't yet known, but the data strongly support a link there--young women who have full term pregnancies are at lower risk.

So let's say it again. Having an abortion doesn't increase your cancer risk, but having a baby does decrease it. People on either side of a controversial topic like this probably would like the facts to be a little simpler, but then, mother nature isn't taking sides.

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