According to a 2017 study published by the American Journal of Obstetrics of Gynecology, oral contraceptives have been linked to a decreased risk of certain cancers in women.
“It is widely accepted that birth control users have a lower risk of certain cancers, in particular ovarian, endometrial and colon cancers,” explains Dr. Kenneth Johnson, a board-certified hematologist/oncologist affiliated with the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.
“The reason for this protective effect is not known, but the beneficial effect persists for years after stopping the birth control,” he says.
In the study, the use of birth control pills resulted in a 33 percent reduced risk of developing endometrial and ovarian cancer, and a 20 percent reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer.
However, birth control has also been linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Through research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists found that some oral contraceptives were associated with 13 cases of breast cancer among 100,000 women using the pill for a year. Medical experts explain women should not be alarmed as the risk is quite small and that the positive benefits of birth control outweigh the risk.
“The data suggesting a link between breast cancer and hormone-based birth control are conflicting,” says Dr. Johnson. “I do not feel women should be overly concerned about the risk of breast cancer with birth control pills as the risk appears negligible; however, alternate forms of birth control are available for women who are concerned about the risks.”
Beyond cancer, women should review other considerations of taking oral contraceptives to weigh the risks and benefits carefully — as is the case with any prescribed medication.
Women interested in learning more about the risks and benefits of birth control should discuss the medication with their doctor to find out what may be the best option.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Johnson about birth control and cancer risk for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.