London, England -- British women are harboring a breast cancer 'time-bomb' because of the high abortion rate and low number of children. According to a paper to be published shortly by the Royal Statistical Society, the number of cases of malignant breast cancer diagnosed each year will, by 2030, have risen from 30,000 to more than 50,000. The rise in abortions in recent decades, the fall in fertility, and the trend to have first children later in life have already set in place an explosion in the number of women suffering the disease.
The study, 'Legally Induced Abortion, Fertility and Age at First Birth as Risk Factors in Female Breast Cancer', suggests that the number of cases will rise by about 1.6 per cent a year over the next 30 years in England and Wales. The growth rate will be slightly lower in Scotland, which has a lower abortion rate.
British women now have their first baby at an average age of almost 30 and the aver age number of children per woman has fallen to a record low of 1.7. About a quarter of women born in the early Seventies are now expected to remain childless.
The number of abortions has risen steadily since it was legalized in England in 1967, particularly at younger ages. Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, with the peak age for abortion being around 19. Each year, about one in 30 women aged 16 to 25 have an abortion.
The pattern of abortion and births is different in Britain to much of the rest of Europe. In many countries it is more usual to have babies first and then use abortion when no more are wanted. In Britain it is more usual to have abortions young and babies later.
One study has suggested that having an abortion before a child, rather than the other way around, increases the chance of breast cancer by up to four times. Cells in the breast differentiate and develop during pregnancy but this process is severely disrupted by abortion. If a woman has already given birth, the effect is less because the cells will already have fully developed.
Patrick Carroll, an actuary who wrote the report, said: 'There's a lot of cancer in the pipeline - there is no doubt about the upward trend.'
Better screening and treatments also mean that the chances of surviving breast cancer are improving rapidly. However, a rise in cases would have severe implications for NHS resources. 'This increase hasn't been anticipated by the Department of Health - where are the surgeons and radiologists to deal with it?' said Carroll.