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Oral Contraceptive Pills May Increase the Risk of Breast Cancer

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By Apollo 24|7, Published on- 21 January 2022, Updated on - 04 November 2022

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Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women across the globe. While the exact reason for breast cancer is not known yet, scientists have found that family history, unhealthy lifestyle, and the use of birth control measures are some of the factors that may increase the risk of developing the disease. Birth control measures are widely used to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes and syphilis. However, studies have shown that some of these measures may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

What Are the Different Types of Birth Control Measures?

  • Condoms: Condoms are made up of a thin layer of latex, which prevents semen (sperm carrying liquid) from entering the vagina. It is also effective in preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Oral contraceptives: Oral contraceptives are pills that contain oestrogen and progesterone (two female sex hormones), which are responsible for managing the menstrual cycle (periods). These pills restrict the release of eggs from the ovaries, thereby preventing pregnancy. Oral contraceptives can either have a combination of both hormones or just progestogen (the synthetic form of naturally developed progesterone hormone).
  • Vaginal rings: A vaginal ring is made up of flexible silicone rubber that releases estrogen and progestogen continuously to prevent pregnancies. It is placed inside the vagina and replaced every month.
  • Contraceptive patches: These patches have a combination of oestrogen and progesterone hormone, and are stuck on the arm. The patch prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones through the skin, and is replaced every week.
  • Implants: Contraceptive implants are flexible rods that are placed under the skin. These implants release progestogen hormone continuously for at least 3 years to prevent pregnancies.
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs): IUDs are T-shaped plastic and copper devices that are placed up in the uterus by a trained healthcare professional. These devices release copper into the womb, making it difficult for the sperm to survive and reach the egg.
  • Hormonal injections: DMPA (depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate) is an injectable form of contraceptive that contains progestin hormone (type of progestogen). It is given to women every 3 months to prevent pregnancies.

Recommended read: World Contraception Day: Everything you Need to Know About Contraception

Do Birth Control Measures Increase the Risk of Breast Cancer?

Hormonal contraception is the most widely used method of birth control across the world. However, several studies have shown that the use of hormone-containing contraceptives may increase the risk of breast cancer.

  • Injectable contraceptive: Research shows that the progestin used in DMPA injections may increase the risk of breast cancer in women in the age group of 20 to 44 years. The use of DMPA for 12 months increased the risk of developing invasive breast cancer by 2.2 folds.
  • Oral contraceptives: A study conducted in Denmark, including 1.8 million participants, found that women who consumed hormone-based oral contraceptives over the long term are at 20% higher risk of developing breast cancer as compared to those who never used any such contraceptives. They further found that the risk of cancer may increase with the duration of use of the contraceptive. Another study found that the use of oral contraceptives (both combined and progesterone-only) increases the risk of breast and cervical cancer. 
  • Progestin-releasing IUDs: Another similar study found that women who used levonorgestrel-releasing (type of progestin) intrauterine device were 20% more likely to develop breast cancer as compared to those who never used hormonal contraception.

Limited research also shows that vaginal rings and patches can also upsurge the risk of breast cancer when used for longer periods. Other factors such as age, family history, body weight, and unhealthy habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption also play a major role in determining a person’s risk for breast cancer.

Conclusion

It has been found that women who use contraceptives containing hormones are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer as compared to those who don't. While oral contraceptives are one of the most effective and widely used methods of birth control, doctors believe women should also consider other alternatives such as copper IUDs or barrier methods like condoms. It is advisable to consult a doctor before using any birth control measures.

Have more questions?

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