Photo: Getty Images
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more then 11 million women across the world use birth control pills. And even though they are the most popular form of contraception in the United States, a lot of older women are asking "how long should I keep taking them?"
Health care providers generally agree that women can take birth control pills as long as needed or until they reach menopause--that is if they’re basically healthy and don't smoke.
In addition to pregnancy prevention, birth control pills have other health benefits.
The pill is useful in treating endometriosis, a condition where tissue behaves like the cells lining the uterus and grows in other areas of the body. Endometriosis can cause severe cramps and infertility.
Developing ovarian cysts is greatly reduced in birth control pill users because it helps prevent ovulation. An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled growth that develops in the ovary during ovulation.
Oral contraceptives have been found to reduce pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is a bacterial infection of the fallopian tubes and uterus that can result in severe pain and infertility. The pill thickens cervical mucus, which acts as a barrier to help prevent bacteria from entering the cervix.
But the news isn’t all good. Some research suggests that prolonged use of birth control pills increases the risk of certain cancers such as liver or cervical cancer. However, according to the Human Reproduction Update, the risks of other types of cancers are lower in women taking oral contraceptives.
Protection against endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer is said to be one of the most important health benefits of birth control pills. Taking the pill for a year or longer considerably reduces the risk of developing endometrial cancer. Birth control pills can reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer after only three to six months of use. Protection against these cancers only increases with continued pill use and is thought to continue for at least 15 years after pill use stops.
The effect of birth control pills on breast cancer risk isn't clear.