Going Deeper : Here’s what you should know about hormonal birth control and cancer
It's long been known that hormonal birth control method, carries some risks, just as any medication does.
Since birth control was invented over 50 years ago, today’s hormonal birth control options use a much lower dose of hormones which have resulted in lowered side effects for women. However, the link between hormones and cancer is something that continues to be researched and explored.
New research says there is a link between hormonal birth control methods and breast cancer risk.
According to research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, women who take hormonal birth control pills or other hormonal contraceptives like the implant or injectable experience a small yet significant increase in their risk of breast cancer compared to those who don’t.
The study followed 1.8 million Danish women for more than 10 years and found that, for every 100,000 women, hormonal birth control caused an extra 13 cases of breast cancer a year. Specifically, there were 55 breast cancer cases each year among the 100,000 women who didn’t use hormonal birth control, and 68 cases of breast cancer among those who did. To put this in perspective, for women who weren’t using hormonal birth control, .05% of them were diagnosed with breast cancer, while .068% of women who were using hormonal birth control were diagnosed.
Is the risk the same for pills, shots and implants?
Researchers found a similar breast cancer risk with hormonal IUDs (which are not available in Myanmar), and they couldn’t rule out a risk for other hormonal contraceptives like the shot and the implant. Researchers found no differences among types of birth control pills. Because of fewer users, the results for the implant and birth control shot were less clear, but an increase of breast cancer risk for those methods weren’t ruled out. Keep in mind that this slight increase in risk for breast cancer is similar to the increase of risk women can experience by not regularly exercising, drink excessively, or are overweight. It’s also been found that certain types of hormonal birth control can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
So, what are the risks when it comes to cancer?
Breast cancer: Slight Increase in Risk
If you take or have taken birth control pills in the recent past, you are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than women who’ve never used them. Researchers aren’t sure if the link is due to the estrogen or progesterone. Some research hints it might be caused by high-dose estrogen, but women in studies who took the progesterone-only shot have also been found to have higher rates of breast related to her natural hormones. Hormonal and reproductive history factors that increase the risk of breast cancer include factors that may allow breast tissue to be exposed to high levels of hormones for longer periods of time, such as the following:
- Beginning menstruation at an early age
- Experiencing menopause at a late age
- Later age at first pregnancy
- Not having children at all
- Women who have a family history of breast cancer are also more at risk
For women in their 40s or older who think they have a higher risk of breast cancer, there are still good birth control options available, including copper IUDs or condoms, which are both hormone-free.
Cervical cancer: Slight Increase in Risk
Taking birth control pills for 5 or more years might make you more likely to get cervical cancer. The longer you use them, the higher your risk. The risk tends to go back down over time when you stop taking the pills. However, most cervical cancers are caused by a persistent infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is a common STI. Risk of cervical cancer can be reduced through:
- Getting regular HPV screenings.
- Choosing another form of birth control, like a copper IUD.
Endometrial Cancer: Reduced Risk
Birth control pills which have both estrogen and progesterone can lower your risk of this type of cancer. The longer you take them, the lower your risk. In fact, the benefit seems to last for at least a decade after a person stops taking the pill.
An IUD might also help lower your risk of endometrial cancer.
Reduced Risk: Ovarian Cancer
Starting within 3 to 6 months after starting the pill, combination estrogen/progestin contraceptive pills can reduce risk of ovarian cancer. The longer you take it, the lower your risk. The injectable also lowers the risk, especially for women who have used it for more than 3 years.
Hormonal Birth Control Comes with Benefits As Well.
Aside from empowering women to make reproductive choices, lower dose hormonal contraceptives have also been linked to a reduced risk of cancer of the ovaries, the uterus, and even the colon. It can treat endometriosis, help with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), and reduce menstrual camp or pain. It also offers some protection against Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
That’s why, when choosing a form of birth control, it’s important to think about all your options by doing research and talking to your doctor. There are many factors to consider. Cancer risk is only one of them. Birth control can have many health effects; some may be bad while others may be good – but the most important factor is to choose what works for you!