Birth control linked to 20% higher risk of breast cancer

Even New Birth Control Pills May Raise Women's Breast Cancer Risk

Whether it's the pill, the patch, or a range of other products, millions of women today use hormonal contraceptives; so it's little surprise that a new study shows that those who take them have an increased risk of breast cancer.

The study of nearly 2 million women in Denmark looked at women using birth control methods such as the pill, NuvaRing, or implants.

While contraceptive drugs that contain oestrogen have always been suspected of increasing the likelihood of breast cancer, researchers had expected smaller doses of the hormone, often combined with the drug progestin, would be safer, said Lina Morch, an epidemiologist at Copenhagen University Hospital who led a study analysing the records of 1.8 million women in Denmark.

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. "It's 1.3 extra cases of breast cancer per 10,000 women per year using hormonal contraception". Still, the data show that the search for birth control drugs that don't increase breast cancer risk must continue, he said.

And not only are there a wide variety of other factors that can influence an individual's risk of breast cancer-including certain genetic mutations and their family history-but using hormonal birth control may also be associated with a decreased risk of other kinds of cancers. What they should know, however, is that the longer they take them, the greater the chance they will develop breast cancer.

"In the 1980s and 1990s, there was some optimism regarding the development of a formulation that would reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer", he said in the commentary, "but research into this possibility appears to have stalled".

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But the study did not account for some other things that affect breast cancer risk, including physical activity levels and alcohol consumption.

The study, which used all of Denmark as its sample, followed almost 1.8 million women of childbearing age for over a decade on average, drawing data from national prescription and cancer registries.

Officials with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that they would carefully evaluate the new findings, but emphasized that hormonal contraceptives are for many women "among the most safe, effective and accessible options available".

"No type of hormone contraceptive is risk-free unfortunately", said lead author Lina Morch of Copenhagen University Hospital.

Still, the researchers noted that any unaccounted factors would need to have a large effect on the risk of breast cancer and be very common in the population to explain the results. 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.

Researchers found a similar breast cancer risk with the progestin-only intrauterine device. About 40,000 women died of breast cancer in 2017. A 20 per cent increase raises her risk to 1.74 per cent, or 1 in 57. Risk increased with longer use, from a 9 percent increase in risk with less than a year of contraceptive use to a 38 percent increase after more than 10 years of use. But he suggested doctors take time to discuss the pros and cons of different types of contraception with their patients, and that they be frank about the potential risks, suggesting women reassess hormone use as they age.

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