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07 December 2017, 09:24 | Sandy Nunez
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Katherine Streeter for NPR
Katherine Streeter for NPR
Studies of older birth control pills have shown "a net cancer benefit" because of lowered risk of cancer of the colon, uterus and ovaries despite a raised breast cancer risk, said Mia Gaudet, a breast cancer epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society.
The study, which followed 1.8 million Danish women for more than a decade, upends widely held assumptions about modern contraceptives for younger generations of women. Using hormonal contraception for less than one year did not increase women's risk of breast cancer. Women who had used hormonal birth control for less than a year had only a 9 percent increase in their relative risk, while women who had used birth control for more than 10 years had a 38 percent increase.
And not only are there a wide variety of other factors that can influence an individual's risk of breast cancer-including certain genetic mutations and their family history-but using hormonal birth control may also be associated with a decreased risk of other kinds of cancers.
Hopes that different formulations would remove a longstanding danger to women are dashed by a new study.
"In the 1980s and 1990s, there was some optimism regarding the development of a formulation that would reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer", he said in the commentary, "but research into this possibility appears to have stalled". After all, it means that almost a quarter of American women are doing something that might increase their risk of developing breast cancer by a third-in theory. "But the same elevated risk is there".
But the study did not account for some other things that affect breast cancer risk, including physical activity levels and alcohol consumption.
"Oral contraceptives are like any other medication", Rao said. "The range of risks we're talking about here is much much smaller", she said. "These results do not suggest that any particular preparation is free of risk", Hunter added. "It's not like you don't have a choice", she said.
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About 140 million women use some type of hormonal contraception, including about 16 million in the United States.
Though the older oral contraceptives were known to increase the risk of breast cancer, many doctors and patients had assumed the newer generation of pills on the market today were safer. According to an editorial that accompanied the study in NEJM, birth control may actually be protective against cancer on the whole despite this increased risk for one type.
But this risk should be weighed against the important benefits of hormonal contraception, which is an effective method of birth control, the researchers, from the University of Copenhagen, wrote in their study. Risk seemed to increase the longer the contraceptive was used.
Still, the researchers noted that any unaccounted factors would need to have a large effect on the risk of breast cancer and be very common in the population to explain the results. But according to a new study, even the contraceptives with lower dosages of estrogen still come with a slightly increased chance of breast cancer. But the odds rose among women who used hormonal contraception for more than 10 years, the study found.
A large study in Denmark found using hormone based contraceptives for at least five years increases the risk for breast cancer by 20 percent. However, using hormonal contraception for 10 years was linked with a 40 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer, compared with those who had never used hormonal contraception. The findings indicate that the hormone progestin is adding to breast cancer risk; some of the contraceptive pills and numerous IUDs included only progestin, Mørch said. A 20 per cent increase raises her risk to 1.74 per cent, or 1 in 57.
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