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The Pill and Its Cancer Controversy

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Oral contraceptives were first introduced to American women in the 1960s. Since that time oral contraceptives have become the most popular form of birth control for its convenience, effectiveness, and reversibility. However, concerns have been raised about the role that the hormones in oral contraceptives might play in a number of cancers, and how hormone-based oral contraceptives contribute to their development.

For most women, especially young women, experts say the benefits of birth control pills far outweigh the risk. To explore the controversy, here are some frequently asked questions and answers.

Does Taking Birth Control Pills Increase My Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?
Maybe. Studies that have examined oral contraceptives (OCs) as a risk factor for breast cancer have produced conflicting results. In 1996, global epidemiologic data analysis found a slight increase risk of developing breast cancer in current or recent users of OCs. The risk was highest for women who began using the “Pill” as teenagers, however 10 years after stopping OCs, their risk factor was no greater than women who had never used them, despite their family medical history.

Another reputable study, the Women’s Contraceptive and Reproductive Experiences (Women’s CARE) study conducted between 1994-1998 produced contrasting results. It showed a woman’s breast cancer risk was not statistically increased by current or former OC use. It is important to note most studies have not found an overall increased risk of breast cancer due to the use of OCs.

Does Taking Birth Control Pills Increase My Risk of Developing Ovarian Cancer?
No. Studies consistently show that using OCs reduces ovarian cancer risk. In a 1992 analysis of 20 studies of OC use and ovarian cancer, researchers from Harvard Medical School found that the risk of ovarian cancer decreased with increasing duration of OC use. Results showed a 10 to 12 percent decrease in risk after one year of use, and about 50 percent decrease after 5 years of use.

OC usage has also been shown to significantly reduce the risk of endometrial (uterus) cancer.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.