The first contraceptives became available in 1960. Convenience, effectiveness, and reversibility of the action have made them very popular. However, given the fact that the contraceptive effect of these medications is achieved through their hormonal effects on the body, scientists wondered – are birth control pills linked to cancer? Contraceptives and cancer are the subjects of attention of a number of scientists.
General risk of developing cancer
In general, if even birth control pills increase breast cancer risk, it is not serious. Taking the tablets can reduce the risk of the disease with most cancers. Such an advantage, with respect to some types of cancer, can exist for up to 15 years after the cessation of taking the tablets. However, the long-term use of pills (more than 8 years) may slightly increase the overall risk of developing cancer.
What is the link between birth control pills and breast cancer?
Based on the following results, experts say that contraceptives containing estrogen and progestin have a little effect on breast cancer.
Some experts say that birth control pills DO NOT cause cancer:
- Based on the results of most studies on the risk of breast cancer, researchers argue that women who have a hereditary penchant for breast cancer can take contraceptives without increasing the risk of exposure to breast cancer. (Some experts disagree, see below);
- A recent study of weakly-dosed contraceptive pills has not revealed an increase in breast cancer cases among those who are currently taking pills and a reduced risk of breast cancer among those who have taken pills in the past;
- By the age of 55, those who took the tablets earlier are at the same risk of breast cancer as women who have never taken hormones to control fertility.
Some experts say that birth control pills MAY cause cancer:
- Some experts are not entirely convinced that such pills are absolutely safe for women who have a hereditary predisposition to breast cancer or women who are at high risk of mutating BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes;
- Some past studies have found cases of breast cancer, the number of which is slightly above average, among women taking pills now. This may be due to the fact that taking contraceptive hormones promotes the growth of cells that cause breast cancer, which already exist, but which themselves have not yet begun to multiply. On the other hand, this may be due to the fact that these women are more closely examined and the diagnosis of breast cancer is better than that provided to the rest of the population.
The risk of developing cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is caused by an infection caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted through sexual contact. The Gardasil vaccine, for girls and women aged 9 to 26, protects against the most common forms of genital warts that cause cervical cancer. You can lower your risk of infection by using a condom. The most effective diagnosis of cervical cancer is the regular delivery of a Pap smear. The extensive use of the Pap smear test significantly reduces the incidence of cervical cancer, as pre-cancerous changes in cervical cells are detected during the study before cancer itself develops.
Based on the results of current research, you are more likely to develop cervical cancer if you take birth control pills or are HIV-infected. You are also more prone to HIV infection, in case of exposure. This may be due to the fact that long-term use of such tablets can lead to the cells of the cervix becoming more vulnerable.
Protection against ovarian cancer
Combined birth control pills reduce the chances of certain types of cancer after 1 year of use. This advantage lasts for several years after stopping the tablets.
Protection against cancer of the rectum and/or colon and endometrium
The use of combined contraceptive pills for a year or longer reduces the risk of cancer of the rectum and/or colon and cancer of the lining of the uterine lining (endometrial cancer). The longer you take the pills, the lower the risk of endometrial cancer.
Birth control pills and breast cancer: what screening tests can detect cervical and breast cancer?
Studies have shown that breast cancer screening, conventional mammography, reduce the cases of deaths from breast cancer between the ages of 40 to 69 years. Women who have an increased risk of developing breast cancer should consult a doctor and discuss when to start screening mammography and how often this study should be carried out.
Atypical changes in the cervix can often be detected using a PAP test. Women who started to live sexually early and have many sexual partners are at risk for developing cervical cancer.
Women who are concerned about the risk of developing cancer should consult specialists.
Also, some scientists suggest that birth control pill risks may now include brain cancer but this issue requires further research.