According to a recent article published in The New England Journal of Medicine, oral contraceptive use is not associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Since approximately 200,000 women are diagnosed annually with breast cancer in the United States and 40,000 women will die of the disease every year, researchers are studying ways in which to prevent the development of the disease. Previous clinical studies have suggested that oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, may slightly increase the risk of the development of breast cancer in women. Researchers speculated that the increased risk of breast cancer was caused by the female hormones in the pills, particularly estrogen. Conversely, clinical studies have indicated that the use of oral contraceptives reduces the risk of the development of ovarian and endometrial (uterine) cancers.

Researchers from the Division of Reproductive Health and Prevention, other governmental health agencies and several U.S. universities recently conducted a clinical study to re-evaluate the issue of an association between oral contraceptive use and the risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers interviewed 4,575 women with breast cancer and 4,682 women without breast cancer about their use of oral contraceptives. The women were 35 to 64 years of age.

Women who had previously used oral contraceptives, or were currently using oral contraceptives, did not have a higher incidence of breast cancer. In fact, these women had a slightly reduced risk of developing breast cancer. Even patients who had started using oral contraceptives at a young age and had used oral contraceptives consistently for long periods of time were not at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

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These results indicate that the use of oral contraceptives does not increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. These results are at odds with other studies and further data analysis investigating an association between oral contraceptive us and breast cancer risk will undoubtedly be performed in the future. Patients who use oral contraceptives or are considering the use of oral contraceptives may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of this form of birth control.

Reference: Marchbanks PA, McDonald JA, Wilson HG, et al. Oral contraceptives and the risk of breast cancer.

The New England Journal of Medicine. 2002;346:2025-2032.

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