According to an article recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the use oral contraceptives appears to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer in both women who use them for less than six months and quit due to side effects as well as those who use them for more than six months.
Ovarian cancer is a malignancy that arises from various different cells within the ovaries. Approximately 25,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year.
If ovarian cancer is detected early, cure rates are high and reach between 80 and 90 percent. However, ovarian cancer often causes no symptoms until it is far advanced, and there is currently no effective screening for the disease; for these reasons less than 20 percent of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed at an early stage. Once ovarian cancer has spread from the ovary, long-term survival rates are low with current treatment modalities. Thus, ovarian cancer is referred to as the “silent killer”. Researchers continue to evaluate effective screening measures as well as environmental factors that may reduce the risk of developing this deadly disease.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh recently reviewed data to evaluate a possible association between the development of ovarian cancer and the use of oral contraceptives. The data included more than 1,500 women; approximately 600 had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and approximately 900 had never been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After including patient and environmental variables, data indicated that women have a significantly reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer with the use of oral contraceptives. This reduced risk was evident in women who used oral contraceptives for six months or less and stopped using them due to side effects and women who used oral contraceptives for more than six months.
The researchers concluded that the use of oral contraceptives can significantly reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. This reduction in risk appeared limited to women who used oral contraceptives for 6 months or less and quit due to side effects and those who used oral contraceptives for longer than six months. Patients who are at a high risk of developing ovarian cancer may wish to speak with their physician regarding the option of using oral contraceptives.
Reference: Greer J, Modugno F, Allen G, Ness R. Short-Term Oral Contraceptive Use and the Risk of Epithelial Ovarian Cancer. American Journal of Epidemiology 2005; 162:66-72.