Medicine

The latest link between hormonal contraceptives and breast cancer

The latest link between hormonal contraceptives and breast cancer

"Beyond the fact that they provide an effective means of contraception and may benefit women with dysmenorrhea or menorrhagia, the use of oral contraceptives is associated with substantial reductions in the risks of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancers later in life", he wrote, highlighting this further emphasizes the need for a new form of hormonal contraceptive that does not carry an associated breast cancer risk.

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

Researchers in Denmark analyzed data on 1.8 million women and found that using any type of hormonal contraceptive was linked to a 20-percent higher risk of breast cancer.

It's a disappointment to doctors who had hoped that lower doses of hormones in both oral and non-pill contraceptives might be safer than older birth control pills.

Compared to what the group of researchers found in one of their other papers-that using hormonal contraception was associated with a 300 percent increase in suicide risk-"it is a modest increase", said Dr. Øjvind Lidegaard, one of the authors of the paper and a gynecologist at the University of Copenhagen. However, he noted that the clinical implications of this study "must be placed in the context of the low incidence rates of breast cancer among younger women", pointing out that most of the new breast cancer cases occurring in the study were among women using oral contraceptives over the age of 40.

The study shows that "the search for an oral contraceptive that does not elevate the risk of breast cancer needs to continue", said Dr. David Hunter of the University of Oxford in a Journal editorial. Therefore, it wasn't clear if this risk applied to newer formulations of birth control pills or to other birth control methods, including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants that contain only the hormone progestin. The researchers tracked almost 1.8 million women starting in 1995 and compared those who purchased birth control methods with women who developed breast cancer.

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.

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Not only that, but there are plenty of non-hormonal birth control options to consider, like the non-hormonal IUD, diaphragm and condoms - and let's not forget vasectomies. Over the years, makers of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy for women past menopause have reduced the amount of estrogen in their products.

"The relative risk increase in this study is only 1.2 on average".

Two types of birth control pills are sold in the US - one that combines synthetic versions of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, and the "minipill" that only delivers progestin, a synthetic formulation of progesterone. "The range of risks we're talking about here is much much smaller", she said.

"That is a very small extra risk".

The National Cancer Institute estimates that 12.4 percent of women born in the United States will develop breast cancer at some time during their lives.

Duration of use also contributed to associated breast cancer risk.

Mørch explained to MedPage Today that "there was a lack of evidence on contemporary hormonal contraception and risk of breast cancer".


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