Does Taking Birth Control Pills Cause Breast Cancer?

Does birth control cause breast cancer? If yes, is there a way to avoid it? Read on to find out if there is really a connection between both.

Assorted birth control pills

There is a need for an effective safe means of birth control for women all around the world. Over ten million of the female population in America use pills for birth control. Besides the fact that these pills effectively stop unwanted pregnancies, it can also help in controlling other conditions like heavy periods, acne, mood swings, and premenstrual syndrome. But does birth control cause breast cancer? This question has become very popular in recent times especially with the increase in breast cancer cases. Research has also shown that these pills can lower ovarian and uterine cancer risks slightly.

It is important for many women to have an effective and uncomplicated method of birth control. But it is equally important that this method is safe. Since birth control work by using hormones to prevent pregnancy, there are understandable concerns that it may cause an over-stimulation of breast cells and this may increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer. This concern is much greater for women with a family history of the disease or those who had had breast biopsies in the past that showed abnormal cells. Women with a family who has an abnormal breast cell gene are also at high risk.

Does Birth Control Cause Breast Cancer

Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer are not to use any contraceptives that work with hormones. The reason for this is the evidence that suggests these medicines are possible increased risks of the disease recurrence.

A study focused on the relation between birth control pills to breast cancer in females between the ages of twenty to forty-nine. The results discovered was that consumption of high estrogen doses of birth control in previous years increased this woman’s risk of breast cancer. However, if birth control pills that have low estrogen doses are used, there is no increase in the chances of developing breast cancer.

You might have come across this already on the media but they usually fail to report that it is the pills with high estrogen doses that increase the risk. It is important that all details concerning this are made known before any conclusion is drawn.

The debate on birth control and breast cancer risk is not new. For several years researchers have been looking into this and there have been mixed results.

A review was done on fifty-four studies in 1996 and it was discovered that there was a slight increase in breast cancer risk for women on birth control pills containing progestin and estrogen and ten years after. Pills with only progestin also increase risk but to a lesser degree.

A published study in 2002 by reported that past or current birth control pills use did not increase breast cancer risk in women within the age of thirty-five to sixty-four. But the researchers noticed a slight increase in women with a family history of the diseases within the ages of thirty-five and forty-four who used the pills.

Results gotten from a nurse’s health study in 2010 suggests that past birth control pill use is not associated with breast cancer risk. However, the results also suggest that the risk might increase a little with current use. Women at highest risk were said to be those using triphasic pills – a pill with several hormone doses present in more than three monthly cycle stage.

An analysis done in 2012 found that there is a slight increase in breast cancer risk for women with ages forty to forty-nine who are currently using birth control pills.

A group of researchers also examined over twenty-three thousand women records. These women were enrolled in a delivery system in Seattle and they were all within the ages of twenty to forty-nine with enrollment into the healthcare in a year. The researchers described “recent” birth control pill use as using the pill within the last twelve months.

1,102 women with breast cancer diagnoses were matched to 21,952 women who were not diagnosed according to their age, the period of time they spent in the healthcare facility and their medical charts availability.

Another area the researchers examined was the type of birth control pills these women were using and the hormone doses and triphasic or monophasic pills. Rather than rely on the women’s recall of what birth control pills they used. The researchers dug out their electronic pharmacy records.

In general, the researchers discovered that those women who used the pills within the last year had fifty percent increased chances of developing breast cancer when compared to those who had never used the pills.

Things To Note

Although this result might seem to be alarming there are three important things that must be noted.

  1. The risk here is varied with how the pills were formulated. High estrogen doses of birth control pills double breast cancer risk. A progestin type is known as ethynodiol diacetate also doubles this risk. A triphasic birth control pill containing 0.75mg of norethindrone will triple breast cancer risk.
  2. This increased risk is relative. What does relative risk mean? It tells how much a thing can do. For example, a healthy weight may change the risk of you becoming overweight. You can express relative risk as a percentage increase or decrease. Any relative risk increase should be multiplied by the woman’s absolute risk to find her real risk.
  3. A lot of experts have agreed that the average woman below age fifty with no abnormal cancer genes and no family history of breast cancer has a 2% absolute risk of developing breast cancer. If this risk is doubled then it would still be less than 4%.
  4. The study did not consider whether the women had a family breast cancer history or abnormal BRCA2 or BRCA1 gene. This consideration is very important and is one major reason why some researchers are questioning the results presented from this study.

A Yes or No?

Does birth control increase breast cancer risk? Well, this is one question that nobody is able to give a full yes or no to. If you will be using these pills consult a doctor and discuss all the pros and cons.

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