The Birth Control Pill and Breast Cancer Risk

February 2, 2011

Although the original concept of the hormonal oral contraceptive came to light as far back as the 1920's, it wasn't until the 1950's that this type of birth control became available for women in the United States. After a further ten years' of research, the FDA approved Enovid-10, the first synthetic hormone pill to prevent pregnancy. The first birth control pill was manufactured by G.D. Searle and Company and contained both progestin and estrogen. Alarmingly, in contrast to the contraceptive pills of today, the first round of birth control pills contained over four times the amount of estrogen and ten times the amount of progestin.

Freedom from Worry

The pill completely changed the constant worry over contraception as it was deemed to be nearly 100% effective when taken as directed. Although there were reports in the late 1960's that the pill could be linked to heart disease, stroke and the risk of developing blood clots, none of these reports were definitively proven, and women continued to use the pill to prevent pregnancy. In our current world, it is estimated that there are more than 100 million users, worldwide, of oral contraceptives. Although many women-especially younger women-feel the benefits of birth control pills outweigh the stated risk, others are very concerned about the more recent links between breast cancer and oral contraceptives.

Family History of Breast Cancer

The truth is, the studies which have examined oral contraceptives and breast cancer risk have produced widely conflicting results. Part of this conflict could be due to the level of hormones in birth control pills now as compared to the much higher level in earlier forms of birth control pill. Researchers in Scandinavia noted a definite increase in breast cancer among women who were currently taking birth control pills, and the longer they were taken, the higher the risk seemed to be. This same research noted that ten years following the cessation of birth control pills saw cancer risk return to the same levels as those women who had never used the pill. Another study done by Women's Contraceptive and Reproductive Experience in 1998 showed no increase in the risk of breast cancer due to use of the pill. It may make a difference as to whether you have a family history of breast cancer in your overall risk from using the pill. The Journal of the American Medical Association noted that women who already have a strong family incidence of breast cancer may have as much as an eleven times higher risk of breast cancer than if they had never taken the pill.

The Age Factor

The risk for breast cancer among pill users seems to be highest among older women, especially those over the age of 45. This older group of women seems to be nearly one-and-a-half times as likely to get breast cancer as are those who have never used the pill. When considering these studies, however, it is important to remember that many of the women studied began taking the pill when it contained much higher doses of hormones. Today's birth control pills are believed to have a greatly reduced risk of negative health effects because of the lower amounts of hormones in them, so you should factor this in when choosing your method of birth control.

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