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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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