Women's Health

How Birth Control Can Protect Against Ovarian Cancer

How Birth Control Can Protect Against Ovarian Cancer

Birth control has an array of uses aside from contraception; it can be used to fight acne, PMS symptoms, and now has been found to even protect against ovarian cancer.

Discovery

Formerly, it was believed that birth control could pose a larger risk of developing breast cancer; however, it has been found that the protective effects of the drugs may be larger.

A study done in Denmark showed that breast cancer rates are higher among those who take hormone-based birth control, which predictably concerned many. But the study did not end there; the researchers also looked into whether there could potentially be some advantages.

They discovered that age and general health are crucial aspects of how the birth control will impact the risk for or protection from cancer, and will vary from woman to woman.

Should I stop taking birth control?

While many would expect they should stop their birth control regimen immediately when hearing that it may pose health risks, doctors say not to. In fact, they say that there is no reason to be worried. This is because the increased risk for breast cancer that the study found was relatively small, and women in their 20s and 30s rarely experience breast cancer. Therefore, even a heightened risk would remain small.

Other cancers

Breast cancer is not the only cancer that birth control pills may have a relationship with. Cervical cancer has also been shown to increase, but researchers and doctors emphasize the need to understand the complexity associated with these potential interactions. While these cancers may be at a higher risk, others are decreased.

Endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer are often identified at stages where they are too late or very difficult to treat, but birth control pills have been shown to offer protection against these. Some studies suggest that it may also defend against colorectal cancer.

History of the pill

The pill has been around since the 1960s, and has certainly faced its fair share of criticism since. However, there is no denying that it has made major improvements in the lives of many women, enabling safety and empowerment, even with minimal risks.

In 1968, soon after the pill became widely available, a British study followed 46,000 women and even kept contact for 44 years afterwards. What they found was that breast and cervical cancers did increase slightly among those who took the pill.

However, before you believe that birth control increases your risk for cancer, it is important to note that the study found overall cancer rates were neutral due to rates of other cancers being reduced.

Other studies have also found the same results. David J. Hunter is a professor of epidemiology and medicine at University of Oxford in Britain, and he explained, "in aggregate, over a woman's lifetime contraceptive use might prevent more cancers. There is good data to show that five or more years of oral contraceptive use substantially reduces ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer risk, and may reduce colorectal cancer. And the protection persists for 10 or 20 years after cessation." Hunter has recently released commentary on the Danish study and it has been published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Read on to learn more about birth control and how it can affect cancer risk and overall health.