We Now Know More About the Link Between Birth Control & Breast Cancer

Amanda Morris	
 
		Amanda Morris with her husband Christopher Bowen and daughters Jade and Hailey

Amanda Morris Amanda Morris with her husband Christopher Bowen and daughters Jade and Hailey

Women who rely on birth control pills or contraceptive devices that release hormones face a small but significant increase in the risk for breast cancer, according to a large study published Wednesday (Dec 6).

Overall, there was one extra case of breast cancer for every 7,600 women using hormonal contraception for a year.

Unlike most previous research, this study didn't just track the effect of birth control pills. Dr. Starck says it " s important for women to know that there are many other factors that can impact overall cancer risk.

The study found few differences in risk between the formulations; women can not protect themselves by turning to implants or intrauterine devices that release a hormone directly into the uterus.

Many studies show that oral contraceptives can also reduce the risk for cancer of the ovaries, uterus and possibly the colon. After all, it means that almost a quarter of American women are doing something that might increase their risk of developing breast cancer by a third-in theory.

The search for new hormonal contraceptives - methods that don't elevate breast cancer risk at all - should continue, Hunter says.

Rebecca Starck, MD, of Cleveland Clinic, did not take part in the study, but said the risk, while present, was relatively small.

Officials with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that they would carefully evaluate the new findings, but emphasized that hormonal contraceptives are for many women "among the most safe, effective and accessible options available". And the longer the women used hormonal methods, she says, the higher their risk. "It's important that women feel confident and comfortable with their contraceptive choice", he said.

Not only that, but there are plenty of non-hormonal birth control options to consider, like the non-hormonal IUD, diaphragm and condoms - and let's not forget vasectomies. "This is the first study with substantial data to show that's not the case". Newer birth control drugs developed to replace those tied to cancer risk were thought to improve safety for the women who took them.

Lindegaard speculated that the hormones in birth control may trigger certain cells that are ready to turn into cancer, he said, given that the risk seems to increase after only a few months of use. But that's not what this study found.

LINA MORCH: We found approximately a 20 percent increased risk among women who now use some type of hormonal contraception. "It is a very clear picture for us, very convincing".

The study was conducted by a group of scientists from Denmark who followed 1.8 million Danish women for over 10 years.

The paper did not make any note of whether birth control impacted mortality from breast cancer, Leath noted.

In fact, birth control increases breast cancer risk about as much as drinking alcohol does, said Dr. Mary Beth Terry, an epidemiologist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. And there's a strong suggestion they also reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Researchers in Denmark analyzed data on 1.8 million women and found that using any type of hormonal contraceptive was linked to a 20-percent higher risk of breast cancer.

Women who used an intrauterine device that releases only progestin also faced a 21 per cent increase in risk, compared with non-users, the study found. "So, many calculations suggest that the use of oral contraceptives actually prevents more cancers than it causes".

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