Some birth control raises risk of breast cancer, study says

David Hunter — Nuffield Department of Population Health

Whether it's the pill, the patch, or a range of other products, millions of women today use hormonal contraceptives; so it's little surprise that a new study shows that those who take them have an increased risk of breast cancer.

The study of nearly 2 million women in Denmark looked at women using birth control methods such as the pill, NuvaRing, or implants.

Overall, the study found that women who used birth control had a 20 percent increase in their relative risk for developing breast cancer.

"I don't think anyone's going to say stop taking oral contraceptives. Yes, hormonal contraception may increase your risk for breast cancer, but the absolute risk of breast cancer is small".

"In the 1980s and 1990s, there was some optimism regarding the development of a formulation that would reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer", he said in the commentary, "but research into this possibility appears to have stalled". The rate, similar to that among women who took older versions, translates to about one extra case of breast cancer among every 7,690 women taking the drugs, the researchers said.

"There had been some changes to oral contraceptive formulations in the '90s, and there was the hope those formulations would result in a lower risk of breast cancer", said Gaudet, who was not part of the study.

Mørch said that "knowledge is needed on the potential beneficial influence of newer contraceptives on the risk of ovarian and colorectal cancer, since evidence now relates to older types of hormonal contraceptives".

Once women stopped using these forms of birth control, the increased risk of breast cancer disappeared if the women had used hormonal contraception for less than five years.

The study builds on earlier findings linking hormonal birth control and breast cancer, but the new study focused on newer forms of birth control.

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The non-oral progestin-only levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system also showed an adjusted relative risk increase for breast cancer (1.21, 95% CI 1.11-1.33).

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. 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 first wave of birth control pills contained doses as high as 150 micrograms of estrogen. "That is not a huge risk increase", she told NBC News.

"That is a very small extra risk. The risk of dying when you're pregnant is probably higher".

They include smoking, obesity, starting menstruation early, having children late in life or not at all and not breastfeeding.

"No one should take (oral contraceptives) without careful thought, but the advantages in avoiding an unwanted pregnancy will usually more than outweigh the very slightly increased risk of breast cancer", said Ashley Grossman, emeritus professor of endocrinologyat Britain's University of Oxford.

"Progestin-only products also increased the risk of breast cancer", Morch noted.

Beyond the fact that they provide an effective means of contraception and may benefit women with menstrual cramping or abnormal menstrual bleeding, "the use of oral contraceptives is associated with substantial reductions in the risks of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancers later in life".

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