Oral Contraceptives and Cancer
One of the essential elements of women’s’ reproductive health is education. As a practicing Rockville gynecologist, I always strive to inform my patients about their reproductive health, treatment options for pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding and other concerns, and most importantly, I welcome any questions and/or concerns they may have.
Throughout the course of my career I repeatedly get asked this question from my gynecology patients who are currently on combination birth control pills (containing both estrogen and progestin) or are considering taking oral contraceptives.
Doctor, will birth control pills cause me to have cancer?
Here is the answer: Oral contraceptives, (i.e. birth control pills) do not cause cancer. In fact, research suggests that oral contraceptives may protect women from developing certain types of tumors and cancerous growths.
Here are some basic facts women using oral contraceptives should know about:
Benign ovarian cysts
Oral contraceptives do not cause benign ovarian cysts of which there are two types: corpus luteum cysts and hemorrhagic corpus luteum cysts. In fact, women who use birth control are at a decreased risk of developing ovarian cysts. Ovarian cysts tend to develop as a result of failed ovulation and since oral contraceptives control monthly cycles, the risk for ovarian cysts is greatly reduced.
According to the National Cancer Institute, oral contraceptives reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. In fact, study results from researchers at Harvard Medical School indicate that women who take oral contraceptives for at least one year enjoy a 10 to 12 percent decreased risk of ovarian cancer and 50 percent after five years of use. The protection lasts for up to 30 years after the last pill used. Significant reduction in ovarian cancer risk is also seen in women carrying BRCA mutation (specific genes that increase an individual’s risk for developing cancer).
If you wish to learn more, please visit the National Cancer Institute website at: www.cancer.gov.
According to clinical studies women who use 30 mcg birth control pills and higher are less likely to develop endometrial cancer. In fact, the protection increases with the length of time oral contraceptives are used. Women who consume birth control pills for up to one year have a decreased risk of developing endometrial cancer by 20 percent and 60 percent after four years of use. This is particularly important for women with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), an imbalance of a woman’s female sex hormones, women who suffer from obesity and women experiencing premenopausal symptoms. The protection for endometrial cancer in birth control users lasts for up to 30 years after the last pill taken.
Colorectal (colon) cancer
According to several studies, including one published in the International Journal of Cancer, women who are currently on birth control pills or have, at some point in the life, used oral contraceptives have a slightly decreased risk of developing colon cancer. This particular study was conducted on more than 90,000 women ages 40 to 59 and results showed that these women were 17 percent less likely to suffer from colon cancer for at least 16 years.
The risk of non-malignant (non-cancerous) liver tumors is increased with the use of birth control pills of 50 mcg of estrogen. However, these pills are currently not on the market.
Hepatic carcinoma (liver cancer):
The risk of liver cancer among birth control users is not increased even among patients with high prevalence of hepatitis.
Breast Health and Oral Contraceptives
Benign breast disease: The use of oral contraceptives leads to a 25 decreased risk for all benign breast diseases, including fibroadenoma (non-cancerous breast tumor).
Breast cancer: Contrary to common belief, oral contraceptives DO NOT CAUSE BREAST CANCER. In fact, even 10 years after discontinuing the pill, the risk of breast cancer is the same as in non-users. In addition, breast cancer in pill users is more likely to be localized, meaning the cancer is confined at the site of origin and does not spread to the surrounding tissues and organs. Also, women with a family history of breast cancer are not at an increased risk for developing the disease by taking oral contraceptives.
Please remember that there are many other issues to consider when selecting your birth control method or sterilization procedures. This is a decision that should always be guided by an experienced women’s health care professional.
I hope this information was helpful to you. If you have further questions or wish to schedule a consultation or routine gynecological care, we will be happy to see you in our office. Contact us today to book your appointment.
We serve Greater Washington DC gynecology patients and those in Rockville, Germantown, Gaithersburg.