My cancer patients don’t need bad science and self-blame, Mr Abetz

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Senator_Eric_Abetz croppedSource: Ranjana Srivastava – The Guardian. Image: Wikipedia.

As an oncologist, I feel frustrated on behalf of patients who harbour the fear that they somehow brought the cancer upon themselves by having an abortion.

The incautious words of the Australian senator Eric Abetz linking abortion to breast cancer on a television show were still being digested when the calls began.

“Can I ask you something personal?” a patient asks. “What’s the matter?”

“Do you think you could talk to my mother-in-law? She can’t stop hinting that my breast cancer is related to my previous abortion – it’s making me upset and worried that she now won’t help.”

I listen in disbelief as she continues, “I am sorry I hid it from you but I had an abortion years ago when I lost my job, couldn’t afford rent, and felt insecure about the future. I am not religious but it’s awful enough to be considered a sinner without being told that the breast cancer is a by-product of that decision.”

“Firstly, I don’t need to know about your abortion”, I say, thinking furiously about how to salvage the situation quickly. “Secondly, there is no plausible scientific evidence to back this claim. We can discuss how to approach your family but please be clear on one thing – although old reports exist, there is no proven link between abortion and breast cancer.”

The prolonged silence prompts me to ask if she is still there.

“But a senator said this”, she replies. “I mean, they have access to all kinds of fact-checks and he was on national TV. Could it be that he knows something doctors don’t?” I can almost hear the misgivings creep into her tone.

It’s my turn to plead with her. “I am not shielding you from the truth, in fact the opposite. I can show you extensive and reputable research that quashes this theory. You have reasons to be upset but this shouldn’t be one. Your abortion did not cause your breast cancer.”

“Okay”, she says, leaving me in no doubt that my reassurance has done little to assuage her distress…read more.

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ONA Editor

The ONA Editor curates oncology news, views and reviews from Australia and around the world for our readers. In aggregated content, original sources will be acknowledged in the article footer.

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