Breast cancer risk remains in newer hormone contraceptives

Pauline Gross
December 8, 2017

It's a disappointment to doctors who had hoped that lower doses of hormones in both oral and non-pill contraceptives might be safer than older birth control pills.

Morch's team pored through years of electronic health records collected by the Danish health system, using prescription data to identify which women had taken the drugs and then track their health outcomes.

But the overall increased risk was small, amounting to one extra case of breast cancer among 7,700 women using such contraceptives per year.

"It's really quite small - not to say it's zero".

NEIGHMOND: All of these forms of hormonal contraception increased breast cancer risk by 20 percent.

"The Royal College of General Practitioners' (RCGP) oral contraception study, also run from the Institute of Applied Health Sciences, University of Aberdeen, examined the very long-term cancer effects associated with the pill by following an original cohort of 46,000 women for up to 44 years".

Women who use hormonal contraceptives have an average 20 percent risk of developing breast cancer, and that risk increased with longer use of birth control, according to a CNN report.

"The risk increases with increasing duration of use and persists for more than five years, if used for longer than five years", said study author Lina Morch, a senior epidemiologist with the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Breast cancer is the second-biggest cancer killer of American women, after lung cancer. A 20 percent increase translates into only one extra breast cancer case for almost every 8,000 women.

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.

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Dr. Starck said it's important for women to know that there are many other factors that can impact overall cancer risk.

"Hormonal contraceptives were initially used for contraception, but we've recognized over the years that this is actually hormonal therapy that can be used for many non-contraceptive-type conditions such as menstrual irregularities, heavy periods, and as a great alternative to hysterectomy for a lot of women", she said.

Some intrauterine devices (IUDs) do not employ hormones.

For women under age 35, who make up the majority of pill users, the rate worked out to one extra case per every 50,000 women.

She said women now using hormonal birth control methods should certainly not panic and if they have concerns, it's best to talk to their doctor about their individual risks and develop a plan that's right for them. "Thus, it is not exclusively estrogen that increases the risk of breast cancer". "Unfortunately, none of these products are risk-free".

HUNTER: There's very good evidence that oral contraceptives reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. Don't forget there is relative risk of death in pregnancy, too. Factors like, physical activity, breast feeding, and alcohol consumption, all of which can influence likelihood of breast cancer in women.

They include smoking, obesity, starting menstruation early, having children late in life or not at all and not breastfeeding.

Every year thousands of families are ripped apart by the deadly disease, and something millions of women use every day is now increasing the risk of being diagnosed.

In an accompanying editorial, David Hunter, professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Nuffield Department of Population Health in the United Kingdom, said that the link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer is already well-established.

Other reports by GizPress

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