Birth control medications can be the most convenient way to prevent unnecessary pregnancies but researchers say those who take them on a regular basis are at a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Contraception in any form, be it pill, patch or ring, contain a combination of estrogen and progestin, a synthetic variant of progesterone, the birth hormone naturally produced by the body. Progestin-only oral contraceptions are also available in the market. The latter type has risen in popularity lately as the absence of estrogen ensures the body is prevented against a number of risks associated with it, especially blood clotting.
A team of researchers from the U.K. did a comparative study and the findings were rather astonishing. It showed there was no tangible difference in the amount of risk associated with progestin-only birth control and those that combined progestin and estrogen.
In the study, published in PLoS Medicine on March 21, the researchers tried to address the knowledge gap and help health experts have a better understanding of how the medications affect the body.
There is evidence that all sorts of birth control medications are linked with various forms of cancer, but the risk level drops just as they stop consuming them, according to study author Gillian Reeves, director of the cancer epidemiology unit at the University of Oxford.
“There’s quite a lot of evidence already that women have an increase in breast-cancer risk while taking combined oral contraceptives,” Reeves said.
The study highlighted that taking progestin-only birth controls, also called “mini-pills” or POPs, comes with a 20% to 30% increase in breast cancer risk, which is similar to the combination medication with estrogen.
Even though it sounds like a scary figure, Reeves said those with no family history of cancer are least likely to develop the disease. “Twenty percent is not going to lead to many extra cases, because it’s so rare. For women who, say, take it for five years from 30 to 34, you’re talking about an increase in risk up to age 50 of something like 0.2%,” Reeves told the Time. “So it’s very small.”
The team concluded that the standard combined hormone birth control pills are protective against other cancers although those who take them can fall vulnerable to endometrial, ovarian and colorectal cancers. The research did not explain the progestin-only birth control’s association with other cancers.
This doesn’t mean physicians should stop recommending birth control to patients. “There’s no reason to be any more concerned than you would be about using combined oral contraceptives,” Reeves added.
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