Birth control linked to 20% higher risk of breast cancer

Birth control linked to 20% higher risk of breast cancer

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.

Specifically, the study found that it may be the hormone progestin - a key component of many of today's hormonal contraceptives - that is behind the breast cancer risk.

Using hormonal birth control methods - including newer types of birth control pills, as well as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants - may slightly increase women's risk of breast cancer, according to a new study from Denmark.

Still, a woman's overall chance of developing breast cancer linked to hormonal birth control use was quite small: The researchers estimate that there would be 1 extra case of breast cancer for every 7,690 women who took hormonal contraception (or 13 extra cases of breast cancer for every 100,000 women who used hormonal contraception).

Researchers accounted for education, childbirth and family history of breast cancer, but they weren't able to adjust for several other known cancer risk factors such as alcohol use and limited physical activity, or protective factors such as breast-feeding.

"This is an important study because we had no idea how the modern day pills compared to the old-fashioned pills in terms of breast cancer risk, and we didn't know anything about IUDs", said Dr Marisa Weiss, an oncologist who founded the website breastcancer.org and was not involved in the study. But researchers in Denmark looked at 1.8 million women between the ages of 15 and 49 to see if new lower-dosed formulations are still risky.

"Oral contraceptives are like any other medication", Rao said.

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The search for new hormonal contraceptives - methods that don't elevate breast cancer risk at all - should continue, Hunter says. Risk seemed to increase the longer the contraceptive was used. Relative to the increased risk posed by other environmental factors, like smoking for lung cancer-that's about a 10 times greater risk-and having a human papillomavirus infection for cervical cancer-that may increase risk about 50 or 60 times-38 percent really isn't that much.

Women who used an intrauterine device that releases only progestin also faced a 21 per cent increase in risk, compared with non-users, the study found.

"Nothing is risk-free, and hormonal contraceptives are not an exception to that rule", said Dr. Øjvind Lidegaard, the paper's senior author.

The paper did not make any note of whether birth control impacted mortality from breast cancer, Leath noted.

But this risk should be weighed against the important benefits of hormonal contraception, which is an effective method of birth control, the researchers, from the University of Copenhagen, wrote in their study. "But we should make an individual assessment-doctor and a woman, together-to see what is the most appropriate thing for her to use". A 20 percent increase translates into only one extra breast cancer case for almost every 8,000 women. About 40,000 women died of breast cancer in 2017. But he suggested doctors take time to discuss the pros and cons of different types of contraception with their patients, and that they be frank about the potential risks, suggesting women reassess hormone use as they age.

HUNTER: There's very good evidence that oral contraceptives reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. And so many calculations suggest that use of all contraceptives actually prevents more cancers than it causes. "But the same elevated risk is there".

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