Monday, July 12, 2010

Medical News Today Exhibits Poor Research Reporting

The following is a ChoiceUSA cross-post.

Those of us who seek out plain-English reporting on medical research often turn to Medical News Today (MNT) as a source of comprehensive health-related information. MNT is owned by MediLexicon International, a UK-based internet publishing group that boasts "timely, accurate and unbiased" reporting on medical and health-related research trends.

I have used reports from MNT to dispel the myths of purported "health consequences" of abortion and contraception from a fully scientific standpoint, which is why I was shocked to see this article published last week:

Researcher Finally Admits Abortion Raises Breast Cancer Risk In Study That Fingers Oral Contraceptives As A Probably Cause of Breast Cancer

My first reaction was to panic; I've been arguing the exact opposite for years now, citing studies from highly respected medical organizations, fact-checking every last bit of new information on the topic, often using MNT for just that. As a women's health advocate, this was big news for me, news that I needed to spread.

Then I read the article.

The study in question was published in April of last year and has already been refuted or point-blank ignored by a number of medical research groups, the main reason being methodological inconsistencies and poor data interpretation. Technical writer Joyce Arthur explains:

The anti-choice movement has been touting a 2009 study (Dolle at al, Journal of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention) that concluded that abortion raises the risk of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) by 40%. However, they never mention that this is a rare type of cancer that typically strikes women under 40 years of age. Because TNBC makes up such a small subset of all breast cancers, the overall conclusion that abortion does not lead to breast cancer has not changed. As Kathi Malone, one of the study authors, stated: “The weight of scientific evidence to date strongly indicates that abortion doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer.”

Even the reported 40% increased risk for TNBC needs to be treated with caution. The statistical adjustments the researchers used to arrive at that figure may simply be an error caused by not accounting for all possible factors that might be contributing to the increased risk. The abortion data was apparently not adjusted for important factors like income or education. Further, to put things in perspective, a 40% increase in risk is not considered substantial in the field of epidemiology — a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer increases by 200-300 per cent if her mother had breast cancer.

Statistical misinterpretation, poor sampling, failure to recognize other risk factors... not at all unusual for studies on the topic that "prove" a link between abortion and breast cancer, but that hasn't stopped anti-choice organizations such as the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer from using it to push their agenda. The MNT article quotes the Coalition's president, Karen Malec: "Although the study was published nine months ago ... the NCI, the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and other cancer fundraising businesses have made no efforts to reduce breast cancer rates by issuing nationwide warnings to women."

Maybe that's because these organizations have done their homework:
Is Abortion Linked To Breast Cancer? -- America Cancer Society
Abortion, Miscarriage, and Breast Cancer Risk -- National Cancer Institute
ACOG Finds No Link Between Abortion and Breast Cancer Risk -- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Additionally, the Susan G. Komen Foundation published a highly comprehensive table on a number of studies regarding the purported link, examining the methodology and findings, still concluding abortion is not a significant risk factor.

So why is Medical News Today exhibiting such poor standards on research reporting? It truly escapes me, but I might have lost my faith in a news source I once respected greatly.

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