Breast Cancer: Birth Control May Increase Risk By Up To 38 Percent

07 December, 2017, 08:15 | Author: Eloise Marshall
  • Sebastien_B  iStock  Thinkstock

"The increased risk also with newer progestins in hormonal contraceptives has not been shown consistently before, though progestins in postmenopausal therapy has also been found to increase the risk of breast cancer", she added.

Newer formulations of birth control pills appear the carry the same risk of breast cancer as older versions. Out of those women, for every 100,000 participants, the use of hormonal birth control caused an additional 13 cases of breast cancer each year. But a large Danish study suggests that, like older pills, they still modestly raise the risk of breast cancer, especially with long-term use. That information was compared to those who were diagnosed with breast cancer, which showed there was a 20 percent increase in risk of breast cancer for those taking contraceptives.

But the researchers add, while this may sound scary, the overall risk of breast cancer remains small for many women; and the pill has its benefits.

The data for the study was collected from 1.8 million Danish women for more than a decade. Women who used any form hormonal contraception for more than 10 years (1.38, 95% CI 1.26-1.51) had a higher risk compared to those who reported less than 1 year of use (1.09, 95% CI 0.96-1.23)(P=0.002), they wrote online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The bottom line is that before starting or continuing to take hormonal contraceptives - or any medications - it's important to speak with your doctor about any potential risks and benefits, and make an informed decision from there. Most cases of breast cancer were seen in women using oral contraceptives in their 40s.

"And there is also the reassuring thought that oral contraceptive use may decrease the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer".

Almost 10 million American women use oral contraceptives, including about 1.5 million who rely on them for reasons other than birth control.

"Progestin-only products also increased the risk of breast cancer", Morch noted. According to an editorial that accompanied the study in NEJM, birth control may actually be protective against cancer on the whole despite this increased risk for one type.

A 20 per cent increase in relative risk may be small in absolute terms, but the calculation changes with age.

Such alternatives include a copper IUD, condoms or, if women are done having children, tubal ligation.

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". And for those who take the drugs for five years or more, the risk will persist for as long as five years after they stop, she said. The findings indicate that the hormone progestin is adding to breast cancer risk; some of the contraceptive pills and numerous IUDs included only progestin, Mørch said. By contrast, there was no increased risk for breast cancer seen in women who used hormones for less than one year.

"Estrogen has been the primary focus of breast cancer research in general, and so we know much more about it than we do progesterone", Gaudet said. "In particular the knowledge of risk with newer progestins was sparse". Don't forget there is relative risk of death in pregnancy, too. Any woman's risk of breast cancer goes up as she gets older.

In Denmark, older women who have completed their families are most likely to use IUDs, including those containing hormones, and they are already more likely to develop breast cancer because of their age, Mørch said.

But by using computer databases from national health systems, which in Denmark are comprehensive, researchers can look at years of patient data far more cheaply, and with no risk of losing contact.

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