The letter below was published in the Tribune's Voice of the People in response to my Jan. 31 column in which I deplored the politicalization of science, including the political attacks made on scientists who see a connection between breast cancer and inducted abortions. I had mentioned one study that discovered a statistical link between the two, but the c0-author of the study took umbrage. Here is her letter, and below it is a response from Joel Brind, Professor of biology and endocrinology at Baruch College of the City University of NY and a leading advocate for women who may have suffered from breast cancer because of an induced abortion.
Science and politics
I appreciated columnist Dennis Byrne's "Save us from the politics of science; When ideology drives discussion, we're in trouble" (Commentary, Jan. 31), and his commitment to uncovering the tangled web of science and politics.
While I wholeheartedly endorse Byrne's aims, I am saddened and dismayed to see that he committed precisely the same error of tying together science and politics to serve a specific agenda by perpetuating the misrepresentation of my American University of Armenia student's work in the following statement: "The group (Coalition on Abortion/BreastCancer) recently pointed to a study co-authored by researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing that reported a nearly tripled breast cancer risk for post-abortive women."
The research was not aimed at linking elective abortion to the incidence of breast cancer, and we specifically note that our finding of an association between breast cancer and induced abortion was not robust.
The paper, in fact, reports a study of possible epidemiological connections between breast cancer and Type 2 diabetes in the Armenian population.
Discussing the work I sponsored and supported a student to complete and publish, without reading and understanding the report, only adds to myth and misinformation. I hope that, in the future, Byrne will consider reading research on which he wishes to comment and contacting the authors of studies like this one before entangling them in a debate that besmirches both science and scientists with the worst of political motives.
— Sarah H. Kagan, professor of gerontological nursing, School of Nursing, clinical nurse specialist, Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania,Philadelphia
Now for Brind's response:
Here are a few specific criticisms of her letter:
1) " the research was NOT aimed at linking elective abortion to the incidence of breast cancer". This is entirely irrelevant. Of course the study was primarily interested in finding out if Type II diabetes was a risk factor, but it looked at all the other likely risk factors, and abortion did indeed come out with almost a 3-fold risk increase.
2) " we specifically note that our finding of an association between breast cancer and induced abortion was not robust." Indeed, this is exactly the sort of gratuitous, self-negating statement that is sorely out of place in a scientific paper, especially since an objective description of this finding would be "statistically significant and moderately strong". Also interesting that this odd statement was not in the original, MPH thesis version of Khachatryan's study (available online via google scholar).
3) In fact, in the original thesis version of the paper, on her short list of 4 conclusions, conclusion #3 reads: “Induced abortions are positively associated with development of breast cancer.” The published paper of which Kagan is a co-author merely calls for "further research", with induced abortion not mentioned at all in the context of conclusions or recommendations.