Posted on | June 29, 2012 by Stefano Gennarini, J.D. |
An article in Lancet by two Aussie researchers calls on the Catholic Church to put nuns on birth control because of the increased risk of contracting uterine, ovarian and breast cancer as a consequence of never having children.
The article“The plight of nuns: hazards of nulliparity” says that the increased risk of those types of cancer in nuns is due to the higher number of ovulatory menstural cycles that nuns have because they never have children. It cites a famous 1970 study of over 30,000 nuns in the USA that showed how nuns have a higher rate of occurrence for those types of cancer, and more recent studies that have further cemented that correlation.
The authors opine that “[t]oday the world’s 94,790 nuns still pay a terrible price for their chastity” and that the Catholic Church should “make the contraceptive pill freely available to its nuns… and give its nuns’ plight the recognition it deserves.” The authors comically attempt to insinuate that the Church has been withholding the pill from nuns because of Humanae Vitae, the encyclical of Paul VI from 1968 which declared the use of artificial birth control gravely immoral.
But the authors are wrong on the position of the Church on contraception. The Catholic Church does not prohibit contraception when it is used for therapeutic purposes, only as a method of family planning. It remains to be seen how many nuns would actually be interested in using the pill just to reduce their cancer risk.
To make these assertions the article cites two 2010 epidemological studies that find that the contraceptive pill “significantly decreases overall mortality rate (by 12%)… and significantly reduces risk of both ovarian and uterine cancers (50-60%)”. Interestingly, the studies are cited for the proposition that the use of the contraceptive pill “does not increase breast cancer risk.”
This assertion is controversial because oral contraceptives were classified in 2005 by the World Health Organization as possible carcinogens, and as probable carcinogens in 2002 by the American Cancer Society.
Several studies have shown an increased risk of breast cancer as a result of the use of estrogen based contraceptives. Studies show an increased risk of 10-30% up to 65% in certain cases. Dr. Angela Lanfranchi has gone as far as describing the pill as a “Molotov cancer cocktail”, highlighting the 660 percent rise in non-invasive breast cancer since 1973.
The link between fertility rate and certain forms of cancer has been known since the middle ages. But in societies where women are dependent on the pill from a very early age it is simply inconvenient to uncover that truth.