According to the
While hormonal birth control has benefits beyond pregnancy prevention, there are concerns that it may influence cancer risk. Research suggests that although oral contraceptives slightly increase the risk of breast and cervical cancers, they may also reduce risk of endometrial, ovarian, and colorectal cancers.
In this article, we’ll examine what research says about the link between oral contraceptives and cancer risk.
Oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, are hormone-containing medications taken to prevent pregnancy. Birth control pills are formulated using one, or both, of the following hormones: estrogen and progestin.
- combination birth control pills contain both estrogen and progestin
- progestin-only birth control pills, or “mini pills,” contain only progestin
In addition to preventing pregnancy, birth control pills have a variety of other health benefits, such as reducing period pain, preventing ovarian cysts, regulating menstrual cycle, and more. However, as with any medication, birth control pills do come with a variety of side effects and risks.
So, does birth control cause cancer? Current research shows that there’s a dual relationship between oral contraceptives and cancer, as we explain below.
Here’s what research has told us about the relationship between oral contraceptives and certain cancers.
In one early
For women taking combination birth control, the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer was slightly higher, both during and up to 10 years after stopping the pill. However, cancer diagnoses in women who had taken birth control pills were less clinically advanced than those who had never taken the pill.
In a more recent
In a large
In addition, this risk was found to increase over time, with a higher risk being found in those who had been taking the pill for 5 years. Fortunately, cervical cancer risk declined after stopping the pill — and after 10 years of non-use, this increased risk was non-existent.
In a more recent
Interestingly, longer duration of birth control use was found to have a greater reduction in endometrial cancer risk. This risk reduction was also found to continue for more than 30 years after stopping the pill.
Like endometrial cancer, this reduced risk was greater the longer someone took birth control. This protective effect continued for up to 30 years after stopping the pill.
A more recent
Like previous studies mentioned above, a greater reduction in risk was observed for those who took the pill for longer periods of time. In particular, the greatest risk reduction was seen after taking the pill for 42 months.
While multiple early studies suggested a potential correlation between liver cancer risk and birth control, results were conflicting. However, one
However, in the endometrium, estrogen seems to increase cell division while progestin has the opposite effect. This explains why the combination birth control pill has a protective effect on certain cancers like endometrial cancer. This may also explain why progestin-only birth control options, such as the mini pill or the shot, carry less risk.
Ultimately, there are many factors that can influence cancer risk outside of hormones, including other carcinogens, viruses, lifestyle habits, and more.
If you’re concerned about your risk of cancer from taking birth control, talk with your doctor. They can review your medical and family history to help you determine which form of birth control is safest for you.
Alternately, you may choose to consider other non-hormonal birth control options, such as:
- Male or female condoms. Condoms are a safe, inexpensive way to prevent pregnancy when used correctly. While male condoms are more common, female condoms, or internal condoms, are also an option. Male and female condoms are anywhere from 79 to 97 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
- Fertility awareness method. Fertility awareness involves no hormones, instead relying entirely on tracking your menstrual cycle. With this method, you track your temperature, cervical mucus, and other symptoms to determine when you should avoid intimacy. Fertility awareness is roughly 76 to 88 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
- Diaphragm, cervical cap, or sponge. Diaphragms, cervical caps, and sponges were all popular birth control methods before the introduction of the pill. However, all three methods require the use of spermicide, which can cause irritation in some people. Diaphragms are up to 96 percent effective, followed by the sponge (91 percent) and the cap (86 percent).
- Non-hormonal IUD. Copper IUDs are the only non-hormonal option IUD option. Unlike the implant or hormonal IUD, the copper IUD provides pregnancy protection without the use of progestin. Copper IUDs offer the best non-hormonal protection at roughly 99.9 percent effectiveness.
Oral contraceptives are one of the most effective birth control methods on the market, and they have a handful of other positive health benefits. However, research suggests that oral contraceptives may cause a slight increase in breast and cervical cancer risk.
But research also suggests that birth control pills can decrease the risk of endometrial, ovarian, and colorectal cancer.
If you’re concerned about the risks of birth control, talk to your doctor. They can help you determine whether the benefits outweigh the risks, or whether there are better options for you to consider.