Birth control and breast cancer risk

Using birth control with hormones may increase risk for breast cancer.

A study published in December in the New England Journal of Medicine on the link between birth control and breast cancer shows that women who use contraceptives with hormones may face an increased risk.

Previous studies found breast cancer was already linked to birth control pills. But this was the first study to look at risks with current birth control pills and devices in a large population. The study included data about intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs) and implants, and their association with breast cancer.

Similar risks even with less estrogen

Today’s hormonal birth control methods have less estrogen than what women took in the past. Still, the risk remains similar. The study showed very few differences between pills, implants and IUDs. The research also showed that a key ingredient in many current birth control methods — progestin — might increase breast cancer risk.

The study estimated that for every 100,000 women, hormonal birth control use causes 13 breast cancer cases a year. This study reaffirmed breast cancer risk for hormonal contraceptives. But they also are linked to reductions in ovarian, endometrial and possibly colorectal cancers later in life.

The study did not take into account breastfeeding, alcohol use, physical activity and other lifestyle choices that may alter risk.

Know your risk

“It’s important to talk with your doctor,” said Kenneth J. Payne, M.D., OB/GYN with Norton OB/GYN Associates.  “Access to effective contraception is fundamental for women’s health. Hormonal birth control is an important decision involving risks, benefits and very real complications, including undesired pregnancy and/or increased breast cancer risk, among others. I recommend a discussion with your gynecologist to assess and determine which method is best on an individual basis.”

Also, doing a breast self-check every month can help keep you aware of any changes in your breasts. If you’re over age 40, make sure to get an annual mammogram screening as well.

“Breast cancer happens to women of all ages,” Dr. Payne said. “Self-checks and annual screenings/exams by an OB/GYN are the only ways to find these cancers.”


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