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Have you tried 'extended cycle' contraception?

By August 24, 2008 - 7:58am
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Today's top story about about extended cycle contraception caught my eye. It's something I've talked about with other women, but really don't know anyone who is using it. The appeal is completely understandable -- fewer periods. But as the article states, some women have safety concerns. What do you think?

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EmpowHER Guest

So, Alison, if I understand this correctly, it doesn't seem like it would be any different to be on a typical 28-day cycle birth control pill (ie: Yaz), compared to extended cycle pills. Because either way, you're not really having a "real" period. Is that right? So then, why are women concerned that there would be greater risks involved with the extended cycle pills compared to the 28-day cycle pills?

(Thanks for all of the great info!)

August 24, 2008 - 8:58pm

As far as I understand (I am not a doctor!), that oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are one of the safer medications for the majority of "healthy women", and actually provide some health benefits. As with any medication, this statement largely depends on an individual woman's personal health history, lifestyle, and other factors. And, along with some side effects, contraindications abound for women who smoke and use the pill, in any form, whether "extended" or "regular".

So, here's what I've learned from many doctors and other health educators about the benefits and risks of oral contraception, whether "extended" or "regular":

Clinical studies have not found a medical reason for most women to "take a break" from oral contraceptives. There also does not seem to be a medical necessity for women to "have a period" with a 28-day pill cycle vs. any other "extended pill" cycle. I say "have a period" in quotes, because a common misconception is that women are having a "regular" period while using hormonal contraceptives. This is not so! The bleeding during the placebo/non-active pills is actually from withdrawal from the medication! This is because one method that hormonal contraception is thought to work in the body is to prevent the release of an egg (ovulation)...and ovulation is a necessary step in the menstruation cycle. I know--it's confusing!

The benefits of oral/hormonal contraceptives:
- 40% reduction in the risk of developing endometrial and ovarian cancer
- Women who use oral contraceptives for 10 years or longer have an 80% reduction in risk

The risks:
- Cervical cancer is higher among oral contraceptive users, as women using the pill are less likely to use condoms (the pill can not protect against STIs or STDs). Cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted infection, called HPV.
- Increased risk of blood clot, but this occurs in many women (non-smokers!) who already have an increased risk due to their genetics (of course, the problem is: how do you know this ahead of time?!). This is most likely the most significant risk, from what I understand

What about breast cancer?
- From my understanding, the pill does not increase risk of developing breast cancer, but more women who use the pill are diagnosed with breast cancer (possibly because they are required to visit the doctor annually/on a regular basis to receive a renewed prescription?)

So, it seems as though oral contraceptives in general, both "regular" and "extended" provide more health benefits (plus, reduced risk of unplanned pregnancy!) than the risks in using no oral contraceptives at all (and, again, this depends on many of your personal health factors!!). I am unclear about side effect differences, as one of my doctors said that Yaz has some scary side effects of raising potassium levels (with can cause irregular heart beat!), and the other pills do not.

Knowing all of this information, I choose to stay on my "regular" birth control, because it is working for me, and I do not have any side effects (like spotting in between periods).

I'm interested to hear what other women's experiences are, and what their doctors told them!

August 24, 2008 - 12:42pm
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