All Contraceptive Pills Slightly Increase Risk of Breast Cancer: Study

A new study has raised brows by suggesting that the consumption of contraceptive pills, both combined oral contraceptives including estrogen and progesterone and even progesterone-only pills is associated with a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer.

As per reports, many women have started to consume progestin-only pills (the synthetic form of progesterone) in recent years but the slight risk of their use associated with breast cancer remains in line with the consumption of older traditional contraceptives that contain hormones progesterone and estrogen. As per experts, the new alternative pills might pose a similar slight risk as was established with the older forms. The study showed that the information on associated risks with progesterone-only tablets is limited. As per the study authors, hormonal birth control pills use is associated with a relative 20 to 30 per cent increased risk of breast cancer.

Hormonal birth control pills or contraceptive pills are hormonal ways of preventing pregnancy. They can be of two kinds, combination pills (that contain progesterone and estrogen) and mini pills (that contain only progesterone). They usually function by preventing ovulation (release of an egg from ovaries) or changing the thickness of cervical mucus.

What did the study find?

The study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford and published in the PLOS Medicine journal included almost 10,000 women aged less than 50 years of age with breast cancer, to assess the relationship between their recent use of hormonal contraceptives and their subsequent risk of developing breast cancer. The study found evidence suggesting that all kinds of hormonal birth control preparations were associated with a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.

The study researchers had compared data from 9,498 women (under the age of 50) having breast cancer diagnosis with more than 18,000 control subjects who hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer. They found that 44 per cent of the women in the first group had taken a hormonal contraceptive which was prescribed around three years before their cancer diagnosis.

This rate was higher than the rate among women who had consumed birth control pills and weren’t diagnosed with breast cancer.

The findings for oral contraceptives when combined with results from previous studies (which included women in a wider age range) found that the risk of breast cancer associated with the use of oral contraceptives ranged from 8 per 100,000 users (an increase in incidence from 0.084% to 0.093%) for use from age 16 to 20 to about 265 per 100,000 users (from 2.0% to 2.2%) for use from age 35 to 39.

The study didn’t suggest that women must stop consuming contraceptive pills or reduce their intake. The lack of complete information on a woman’s prescription history suggests that this study was unable to assess the long-term associations of contraceptive use on breast cancer risk.

Can we completely do away with contraceptive pills?

The increased risk of cancer with these hormonal pills is not dramatic. The study also didn’t suggest in the least that people must stop using the pills or discontinue them. It might be interesting to note that the use of contraceptives is not limited to pregnancy prevention but they are prescribed for many other conditions such as to prevent heavy bleeding during menstruation, to treat acne, hormonal conditions such as PCOS, anaemia, non-cancerous growth, certain kinds of cancer and other conditions.

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