Women taking contraceptive pills may be in luck as a new study indicates that birth control pills may actually help in preventing certain cancers for decades. Taken from an analysis of more than 46,000 women, researchers from the University of Aberdeen in the UK found that women who had used a contraceptive pill during their lives had a significantly lower risk of suffering from colorectal, ovarian and endometrial cancers, in comparison to women who had never used such pills. Furthermore, the study found no link between the use of oral contraceptives during reproductive years and increased risk of new cancers in later life.
Led by Dr. Lisa Iversen of the Institute of Applied Health Sciences at Aberdeen, the findings were recently published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 16 percent of women in the US between the ages of 15 and 44 years are currently taking oral contraceptive pills as a method of birth control. The most common form of oral contraceptive is known as the “combined pill,” which contains synthetic versions of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. As naturally occurring estrogen and progesterone have long been associated with cancer development, a number of studies have attempted to uncover whether oral contraceptives might play a role in the risk of cancer.
Despite some studies indicating a link between oral contraceptive use and an increased risk of breast cancer, others have found that oral contraceptives actually reduced a number of certain cancer types, including endometrial and colorectal cancers.
The purpose of the new study was to assess the long-term cancer benefits or risks of oral contraceptive use.
In order to come to their findings, Dr. Iversen and her colleagues closely analyzed the data taken from 46,022 women who were part of the U.K. Royal College of General Practitioners’ Oral Contraception Study from 1968 to 1969. These participants were monitored for up to 44 years, and the researchers assessed the development of all cancer types during this time. Dr. Iversen noted that, “Because the study has been going on for such a long time, we are able to look at the very long-term effects, if any, there are associated with the pill.”
It is shown that when compared with women who had never used oral contraceptive pills, those who had used the pill were found to be at lower risk of colorectal, endometrial and ovarian cancers. Dr. Iversen states that, “the protective benefits from using the pill during their reproductive years are lasting for at least 30 years after women have stopped using the pill. Even though the team did identify a greater risk of breast and cervical cancers with oral contraceptive use, this risk appears to diminish within 5 years of discontinuing use of the pill. The researchers did not find any other evidence to suggest of increased risk of new cancer development later on in their life if women had oral contraceptives. The team feels that these findings should offer some peace of mind to women who are currently using oral contraceptives. As Dr. Iversen herself says, “These results from the longest-running study in the world into oral contraceptive use are reassuring. Specifically, pill users don’t have an increased risk of cancer over their lifetime and the protective effects of some cancers last for at least 30 years.”