Media Manipulation and The Pill

Two months have passed since the publication of comments by Carl Djerassi, one of the co-creators of the synthetic progestagen Norethisterone, warning of demographic catastrophe in Austria. Given his credentials, his comments in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard could hardly be ignored by the worldwide press and medical establishment. Following a firestorm of controversy, Djerassi has demanded corrections in the media. Writing in The Guardian, Tuesday 27 January 2009, he claims that "I never blamed the pill for the fall in family size."

In the same week, the president of the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, Dr. Jose Maria Simon Castellvi, writing in L'Osservatore Romano, highlighted the abortifacient effect of the Pill as well as its environmental impact. The fact that the Pill is contaminating drinking water supplies has been known since the early 1990's, with alarming transgender effects on fish downstream from water treatment facilities. According to CNA, Dr. Jose Maria Simon Castellvi noted the “devastating ecological effects of the tons of hormones discarded into the environment each year. We have sufficient data to state that one of the causes of masculine infertility in the West is the environmental contamination caused by the products of the ‘pill’.”

The mainstream media and medical establishments responded in predictable fashion.

For instance, according to the Austrian Times,

Angelo Bonelli, of the Italian Green party, said it was the first he had heard of a link between the pill and environmental pollution. The worst of poisons were to be found in the water supply. "It strikes me as idiosyncratic to be worried about this."

A leading gynaecologist and member of the New York Academy of Science, professor Gian Benedetto Melis, called Simón's claims "science fiction", saying that the pill blocked ovulation only.

On December 13, 2008, the same week as Djerassi's controversial comments, the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study titled "A Case-Control Study of Oral Contraceptive Use and Incident Breast Cancer." This study, which once again demonstrated an increased risk of breast cancer from the use of oral contraceptives, has received no press coverage whatsoever.

The reluctance of the media to cover negative news on the Pill is not new. Chris Kahlenborn, MD, is the author of a key article published in October 2006 in the prestigious journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings entitled “Oral Contraceptive Use as a Risk Factor for Pre-menopausal Breast Cancer: A Meta-analysis.” His meta-analysis of the world literature found that oral contraceptives were linked with a measurable and statistically significant association with pre-menopausal breast cancer. I asked him about Djerassi's comments and the media embargo of the December 2008 American Journal of Epidemiology study.

Q: Does this study confirm the findings of your meta-analysis?

A: Yes, Rosenberg noted a 60% increased risk of developing breast cancer in women age 50 or under who took oral contraceptives. We found a 52% increased risk in the same group of women if they took the pill for four years or more prior to the birth of their first child.

Q: Why would these researchers fail to cite your meta-analysis?

A: Dr. Rosenberg has noted in the past that she does not put much credibility in meta-analyses as a whole, however, given that our’s is the only current meta-analysis out there, it seems she surely knew about it and chose to avoid mentioning it. I am not sure why.

Q: At present, how many studies have confirmed this risk and how many have found no risk?

A: 22 out of 24 studies have found an increased of premenopausal breast cancer in women who took oral contraceptives prior to the birth of their first child.

Q: In layman's terms, what are the cancer risks for women taking oral contraceptives (including other types of cancers)?

A: Women who take oral contraceptives increase their risk of breast, cervical and liver cancer and decrease their risk of ovarian and uterine cancer.

Q: Do the recent comments of Austrian Carl Djerassi change the nature of the debate?

A: Perhaps slightly but not much. The media as a whole has refused to cover the oral contraceptive-breast cancer link, mostly for ideological reasons in my view. I recently had contact with some of the editors of USA Today and asked them if they would do a story on Rosenberg’s paper as well as ours. They said they already addressed it. I challenged them to tell me of one time they or any other major media had addressed either paper. I almost guarantee you that they will cease corresponding with me from this point onward.

Unfortunately, this type of “hide for cover” by “not covering” a story is typical. In 2006, after our meta-analysis came out in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings the New York Times called the Mayo Clinic to get a copy of it. I feel certain they read it, but they have never done a story on it. Bottom line: if it does not fit the mainstream media’s ideological purpose, they simply pretend the medical studies were never published and refuse to cover them.

Dr. Kahlenborn's research can be reviewed online at The Polycarp Research Institute.

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