Use of oral contraceptive pills linked to reduction in endometrial and ovarian cancer risks, study finds
Despite its widespread use and benefits, oral contraceptive pills are often associated with a number of myths and risk factors for other diseases, especially cancers
Ever since the 1960s, the oral contraceptive pill has been adopted by women across the world as a method of not just family planning but also of treating or managing reproductive health disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), uterine fibroids and endometriosis.
Over the years, contraceptive pills have evolved to be inclusive of most women and give them the maximum amount of control over their reproductive health. Despite its widespread use and benefits, the pill (as oral contraceptive pills are often referred to) is often associated with a number of myths and risk factors for other diseases, especially cancers.
Oral contraceptives pills and cancer
The US National Cancer Institute says that multiple studies from across the world have shown that the risk of breast and cervical cancer definitely increases for women who use contraceptive pills.
A study published in The Lancet in 1996, for example, found that women who had ever used the pill (also known as ever-users) had a 7 percent increased relative risk of breast cancer compared to women who had never used (also known as never-users) oral contraceptives. The study also found that the risk of breast cancer declined after the use of the pill was stopped and did not increase thereafter.
Similarly, another study in The Lancet in 2003 suggests that women who have used the pill for less than five years have a 10 percent increased risk of cervical cancer, while those who have used it for five to nine years have a 60 percent increased risk for the same.
This study too noted that the risk of cervical cancer reduced over time after the use of the pill was stopped.
These studies indicate that the risks of some cancers are indeed increased due to the use of the pill. However, in contradiction of previous findings, a new study published in the journal Cancer Research suggests that the risks of endometrial and ovarian cancers actually reduce due to oral contraceptive pill use.
Pill use and risks of endometrial and ovarian cancers
This study, conducted by researchers at the University of Uppsala, was undertaken with the purpose of clarifying the time-dependent effects of long-term oral contraceptive use and cancer risks. To do this, the researchers gathered data regarding 256,661 women born between 1939 and 1970 from the UK Biobank.
National registers and self-reported data was relied on to track oral contraceptive use and cancer diagnoses. Of these women, 210,443 had used or were still using the pill at the time of the study and were thus designated as ever-users. The never-users were numbered at 46,218.
The researchers noted that while almost all the women had started menstruation (menarche) at around the same age, many were unsure about their menopausal status.
Also, the ever-users in this cohort tended to be younger, more frequently reported to be smokers, had lower body mass index and were less likely to have gone through menopause compared to the never-users. The researchers used Logistic and Cox regression methods to measure the odds ratio (OR) and hazard ratio (HR) of cumulative risk of cancer.
Ever-users, never-users and cancer risks
The researchers found that ever-users of the pill had lower odds of developing ovarian cancer with an OR of 0.72 compared to the never-users — an OR of less than 1 shows a negative association.
Their odds of developing endometrial cancer were also low at an OR of 0.68. In fact, the longer the use of the pill by these women, the lower the risk of developing either of these cancers.
While these findings were heartening, the researchers found that the odds of getting breast cancer among the ever-users was 1.02 which means a marginal increase in the risk of developing this cancer. In fact, this risk disappeared with the disuse of the pill by ever-users.
This is why the researchers concluded that the lifetime risk of breast cancer does not differ much between ever- and never-users even though there may be a slightly increased short-term risk.
As for the cumulative effect of contraceptive use, the researchers found that the protective association between oral contraceptive use and lowered risks of endometrial and ovarian cancer remained significant for up to 35 years since the last use. This final evidence highlights the main finding of this study that the use of oral contraceptive pills dramatically reduces women’s risk of developing endometrial and ovarian cancer.
For more information, read our article on Oral contraceptive pills.
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