Hormone Contraceptives Linked To Higher Risk For Breast Cancer

By Allan Adamson | Dec 07, 2017 07:52 AM EST
Study found a link between use of hormonal contraceptives and increased risk for breast cancer. Does this mean that women should stop relying on hormonal birth control methods? (Photo : Gabriela Sanda | Pixabay)

Women who use birth control pills or contraceptive devices that release hormones have been found to face a small but significantly higher risk for breast cancer, findings of a new research have revealed.

Use Of Hormonal Contraceptive And Higher Breast Cancer Risk

In a new study, which was published on Wednesday, Dec. 6, researchers followed 1.8 million women over a period of more than a decade and found that for every 100,000 women, use of hormonal contraceptive is linked to 68 cases of breast cancer per year. In women who do not use hormonal birth control, researchers found only 55 additional cases per year.

Researchers also found evidence suggesting that the hormone progestin, which is widely used in birth control methods today, may raise risk for breast cancer.

Low-dose contraceptives were assumed to lower the breast cancer risk but the result of the study challenges this idea.

"The risk of breast cancer was higher among women who currently or recently used contemporary hormonal contraceptives than among women who had never used hormonal contraceptives, and this risk increased with longer durations of use; however, absolute increases in risk were small," researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Still A Safe And Effective Means Of Birth Control

Despite the findings, experts said that women should balance the findings against the known benefits of the pill, which include reducing the risk of other forms of cancer. Studies of older birth control pills found these to be associated with reduced risk for cancer of the uterus, colon, and ovaries despite elevated risk for breast cancer.

JoAnn Manson, from Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital, said that hormonal contraception should still be considered as a safe and effective option for family planning.

Options For Women In Their 40s

Manson added that women in the 40s may want to opt for non-hormonal IUDs, get their tubes tied, or consider having their partner undergo a vasectomy.

"The absolute increase in risk [found in the study] is 13 per 100,000 women overall, but only 2 per 100,000 women younger than 35 years of age," David Hunter, of the University of Oxford said. "Most of the cases that occurred in this analysis occurred among women who were using oral contraceptives in their 40s."

Experts also advise women with family history of breast cancer to ask their doctors about other forms of contraceptive. These options include the use of condom, copper IUD, and diaphragm.

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