Oral Contraceptives Increase The Risk Of Breast Cancer, Study Says

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A new study has found that birth control can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer by up to 38%, depending on how long she has taken it.

Hormonal contraceptives like the pill, injections or Intrauterine devices have been marked as some of the contraception’s associated with the risk, when compared with women who have never used them.

The University of Copenhagen carried out the research, whereby they analyzed the data from 1.8 million women in Denmark, under the age of 50, over an 11 year period on average.

They found that the level of breast cancer risk increased the longer a woman had been taking the contraceptives. On average, an increased risk of 20 % was found among women who either currently use or have recently used these forms of hormonal contraception methods.

Researchers also found a 9% increase in risk among women taking hormonal contraceptives for under a year, with the level of risk increasing to 38% if they have been taking it for more than 10 years.

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Interestingly, women who had been taking hormonal contraceptives for more than five years still had a slight risk attached for at least five years after they had stopped taking them.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week and the authors of the study said the results suggested a “rapid disappearance of excess risk of breast cancer after discontinuation of use among women who have used hormonal contraceptives for short periods.” However, they did say that other studies have found no evidence of a persistent risk.

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David Hunter, professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Nuffield Department of Population Health in the UK, told CNN that the link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer is well-established. “These results do not suggest that any particular preparation is free of risk,” he said. Nevertheless, he believes the new study is important as it looks at newer preparations of contraceptives.

Hunter said that “The number of cases increases with age because the risk of breast cancer increased with age,” however, he stressed that “breast cancer remains a relatively rare disease in younger women,” and advises people to take the results as preliminary because the results are unlikely to be significant when other factors are accounted for.

Lower breast cancer rates were seen among women in their 30’s compared to women in the 40’s, with women in their 40’s seen to have rates almost five times higher than younger women. David Hunter suggests that women in their late 30’s and 40’s should seek non-hormonal contraceptive options with their doctors.

Image from Science in the News

He also points out that oral contraceptives are linked to a lower risk of ovarian, endometrial and colorectal cancer in later life. He said that although breast cancer risk declines more rapidly, “The benefits against these other cancers persist for one to two decades, so overall, it may be beneficial.”


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