Does Birth Control Increase Your Risk of Cancer?

Oral contraceptives pills (OCPs) have been used for more than 50 years for family planning purposes. Twelve million women in the United States rely on this safe, convenient and affordable form of birth control.

But just how safe is the pill? Given that it contains hormones, the question often arises: Will this affect my risk of cancer? The answer is … it depends on the type of cancer. Let’s take a look at cancers most common to women for the facts.

Colon Cancer

Multiple studies have found a DECREASE in colorectal cancer amongst OCP users. In one study of over 45,000 women, the decrease was over 25 percent.

Endometrial Cancer

OCP DECREASES the risk of endometrial cancer. Taking the pill for as little as 12 months reduces your risk for this type of cancer. The protective effect appears to last for at least 15 years after you stop taking OCPs. This benefit is likely related to progestin which prevents the uterine lining from overgrowing.

Ovarian Cancer

Studies have consistently shown taking OCP DECREASES the risk of ovarian cancer. The longer a woman is on the pill, the greater the risk reduction. The protective effect is long term and can be seen even 30 years after stopping the pill. Even women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations – who are at a higher risk of breast cancer – reduced their ovarian cancer risk by 50 perecent.

Breast Cancer

Overall, there is NO proven increased risk of breast cancer with OCP use. The data on breast cancer risk with OCPs use are conflicting. Overall, there’s NOT a proven increased risk of breast cancer with OCP use. Here’s what we know: Research on women taking the pill prior to 1975 did find an increase in breast cancer risk in those with a first degree family history. But back then the pill had higher hormone levels. Newer studies have found no increased risk of breast cancer in women with a family history of breast cancer who take today’s lower-hormone OCPs.

Cervical Cancer

Women who have taken OCP appear to be at an INCREASED risk for developing cervical cancer. The risk goes down over time the longer you’re off the OCP. While there may be a correlation, there is no proof OCPs cause cervical cancer. Instead, the vast majority of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Overall, OCPs have been associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer and a decrease in others. It appears that the pill is not associated with an overall increased risk of cancer. In fact, there’s an associated decrease with many of the main reproductive system cancers.

Talk with your doctor about any concerns or questions you have about the pill or other birth control methods.

References

A prospective study of oral contraceptive use and risk of breast cancer (Nurses’ Health Study, United States). Hankinson SE, Colditz GA, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hunter DJ, Stampfer MJ, Speizer FE. Cancer Causes Control. 1997;8(1):65.

Oral contraceptives and the risk of breast cancer.. Marchbanks PA, McDonald JA, Wilson HG, Folger SG, Mandel MG, Daling JR, Bernstein L, Malone KE, Ursin G, Strom BL, Norman SA, Wingo PA, Burkman RT, Berlin JA, Simon MS, Spirtas R, Weiss LK. N Engl J Med. 2002;346(26):2025.

Risk of breast cancer with oral contraceptive use in women with a family history of breast cancer.. Grabrick DM, Hartmann LC, Cerhan JR, Vierkant RA, Therneau TM, Vachon CM, Olson JE, Couch FJ, Anderson KE, Pankratz VS, Sellers TA. JAMA. 2000;284(14):1791.

Oral contraceptive use and breast or ovarian cancer risk in BRCA1/2 carriers: a meta-analysis. Iodice S, Barile M, Rotmensz N, Feroce I, Bonanni B, Radice P, Bernard L, Maisonneuve P, Gandini S. Eur J Cancer. 2010;46(12):2275.

Ovarian cancer and oral contraceptives: collaborative reanalysis of data from 45 epidemiological studies including 23,257 women with ovarian cancer and 87,303 controls. Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies of Ovarian Cancer, Beral V, Doll R, Hermon C, Peto R, Reeves G. Lancet. 2008;371(9609):303.

Combination oral contraceptive use and the risk of endometrial cancer. The Cancer and Steroid Hormone Study of the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. JAMA. 1987;257(6):796.

Cervical cancer and hormonal contraceptives: collaborative reanalysis of individual data for 16,573 women with cervical cancer and 35,509 women without cervical cancer from 24 epidemiological studies. International Collaboration of Epidemiological Studies of Cervical Cancer, Appleby P, Beral V, Berrington de González A, Colin D, Franceschi S, Goodhill A, Green J, Peto J, Plummer M, Sweetland S. Lancet. 2007;370(9599):1609.

Cancer risk among users of oral contraceptives: cohort data from the Royal College of General Practitioner’s oral contraception study. Hannaford PC, Selvaraj S, Elliott AM, Angus V, Iversen L, Lee AJ BMJ. 2007;335(7621):651

Meet the Author

Scott Kamelle, MD is a board-certified Gynecologic Oncologist at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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