MAR 28, 2017 4:39 PM PDT

The Pill May Offer Women Cancer Protection for Decades

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Ever since men and women understood how to have children, they've also been trying to understand how to prevent this process. Now a study finds a popular form of birth control may carry signifcant anticancer benefits.

 A recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that a whopping 62 percent of American women of childbearing age are using some form of birth control, exercising their right to choose when to have children, and how many children they want. Of the available methods, oral contraceptives are the most popular, used by around 10.6 million women.

The most popular form of oral contraceptive for women is based on a combination of two hormones: estrogen and progesterone. This “combined pill” tricks the body into not releasing an egg each month, which significantly reduces the opportunity for fertilization by a sperm.

Because the pill modulates the woman’s levels of hormones that are associated with cancer, scientists have also been curious to know if the pill itself can influence cancer risks in women.

In analyzing over 46,000 women who were on the pill, scientists at the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom made quite a positive conclusion. Oral contraceptives seem to offer women protection from colorectal, ovarian, and endometrial cancers, as compared with women not on the pill. Furthermore, the protection seem to have a lasting effect, with estimates of at least 30 years.

"Because the study has been going for such a long time we are able to look at the very long-term effects, if there are any, associated with the pill," said Dr. Lisa Iversen, the study’s lead author. In particular, patients in this study were followed for up to 44 years, which makes quite an impressive longitudinal study.

"So the protective benefits from using the pill during their reproductive years are lasting for at least 30 years after women have stopped using the pill," says Dr. Iversen.

The results support the findings of other previous short-term studies, which report links between the pill and decreased risk of ovarian, endometrial cancers, along with ectopic pregnancy and ovarian cysts.

And like other studies that find hints of increased risk of breast and cervical cancer with the pill, the current study also report similar findings. However, they say this increased risk is small and seems to go away within 5 years of stopping the pill.

"These results from the longest-running study in the world into oral contraceptive use are reassuring. Specifically, pill users don't have an overall increased risk of cancer over their lifetime and that the protective effects of some specific cancers last for at least 30 years,” Dr. Iversen concluded.

Additional source: MNT

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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