Does Birth Control Use Up Breast Cancer Risk?

Even New Birth Control Pills May Raise Women's Breast Cancer Risk

Some birth control raises risk of breast cancer, study says

A new study is showing the link between the use of birth control to increased risk of breast cancer.

Use of oral contraceptives may increase risk of breast cancer, although the overall absolute increase was relatively small, according to a study from Denmark.

One thing reiterated by every doctor Newsweek spoke to: Women who are anxious about how their contraception might increase their risk of breast cancer should speak with their health care provider.

Researchers found a similar breast cancer risk with the progestin-only intrauterine device, and they couldn't rule out a risk for other hormonal contraceptives like the patch and the implant.

Breast cancer is the second-biggest cancer killer of American women, after lung cancer.

Beyond the fact that they provide an effective means of contraception and may benefit women with menstrual cramping or abnormal menstrual bleeding, "the use of oral contraceptives is associated with substantial reductions in the risks of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancers later in life".

"There were hopes that the new formulations would not increase a user's risk of breast cancer as the older formulations did", said Mia Gaudet, strategic director of breast and gynecologic cancer research at the American Cancer Society, who was not involved in the research. The link with cancer risk exists not only for older generations of hormonal contraceptives but also for the products that many women use today, according to a paper published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers found a similarly increased breast cancer risk in birth control pills that only contain progestin, as well as in IUDs that release progestin.

The study is not likely to impact clinical practice for mammograms or contraceptive use, but women should be aware of the new information, especially if there is a history of breast cancer in their family. Women who had used hormonal birth control for less than a year had only a 9 percent increase in their relative risk, while women who had used birth control for more than 10 years had a 38 percent increase. The women were followed for almost 11 years.

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

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"I don't think anyone's going to say stop taking oral contraceptives".

Still, the data show that the search for birth control drugs that don't increase breast cancer risk must continue, he said. Yet the new study found increased risks that were similar in magnitude to the heightened risks reported in earlier studies based on birth control pills used in the 1980s and earlier, Hunter said.

"The relative risk increase in this study is only 1.2 on average".

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

He also added the risks associated with hormonal contraception must be weighed against the benefits.

Today, most versions of the pill contain between 15 and 35 micrograms of estrogen, Gaudet said. "Thus, it is not exclusively estrogen that increases the risk of breast cancer". Still, the additional risk would result in a comparatively few additional cases of breast cancer, the researchers said.

Not only that, but there are plenty of non-hormonal birth control options to consider, like the non-hormonal IUD, diaphragm and condoms - and let's not forget vasectomies.

Even if the relative risk increases 20 per cent, it remains less than one-tenth of 1 per cent. "That is not a huge risk increase", she told NBC News. Any woman's risk of breast cancer goes up as she gets older.

But by using computer databases from national health systems, which in Denmark are comprehensive, researchers can look at years of patient data far more cheaply, and with no risk of losing contact.

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