Dr. Lanfranchi is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
A woman gains protection from breast cancer by completing a full-term pregnancy. In utero, her offspring produce hormones that mature 85 percent of the mother’s breast tissue into cancer-resistant breast tissue. If the pregnancy ends through an induced abortion or a premature birth before thirty-two weeks, the mother’s breasts will have only partially matured, retaining even more cancer-susceptible breast tissue than when the pregnancy began. This increased amount of immature breast tissue will leave the mother with more sites for cancer initiation, thereby increasing her risk of breast cancer. Hormonal contraceptives increase breast-cancer risk by their proliferative effect on breast tissue and their direct carcinogenic effects on DNA. Hormonal contraceptives include estrogen-progestin combination drugs prescribed in any manner of delivery: orally, transdermally, vaginally, or intrauterine. This article provides the detailed physiology and data that elucidate the mechanisms through which induced abortion and hormonal contraceptives increase breast-cancer risk. Read more.