Medicine

Study confirms higher breast cancer risk with hormone-based contraception

Study confirms higher breast cancer risk with hormone-based contraception

Given that this study out of Denmark is the first to look at the potential risks associated with the current versions of birth control pills and devices, the fact that a correlation between hormonal contraceptive users and breast cancer constitutes a major medical finding.

While contraceptive drugs that contain oestrogen have always been suspected of increasing the likelihood of breast cancer, researchers had expected smaller doses of the hormone, often combined with the drug progestin, would be safer, said Lina Morch, an epidemiologist at Copenhagen University Hospital who led a study analysing the records of 1.8 million women in Denmark. "Yes, hormonal contraception may increase your risk for breast cancer, but the absolute risk of breast cancer is small".

Birth control may be increasing women's chance of developing breast cancer by as much as 38 percent.

"The increased risk also with newer progestins in hormonal contraceptives has not been shown consistently before, though progestins in postmenopausal therapy has also been found to increase the risk of breast cancer", she added.

Overall, there was one extra case of breast cancer for every 7,600 women using hormonal contraception for a year. Newer birth control drugs developed to replace those tied to cancer risk were thought to improve safety for the women who took them.

"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", Dr. Marisa Weiss, an oncologist who founded the website breastcancer.org and was not involved in the study told The New York Times. After all, it means that almost a quarter of American women are doing something that might increase their risk of developing breast cancer by a third-in theory. They also contain progestin, a synthetic form of the female hormone progesterone, which helps regulate the monthly menstrual cycle.

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The new study "confirms that the increased breast cancer risk. that was initially reported with the use of older, often higher-dose formulations also applies to contemporary formulations" of birth control, David Hunter, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Oxford University's Nuffield Department of Population Health in the United Kingdom, wrote in an editorial that accompanied the study.

Mørch said that "knowledge is needed on the potential beneficial influence of newer contraceptives on the risk of ovarian and colorectal cancer, since evidence now relates to older types of hormonal contraceptives". Exclusion criteria included women with venous thromboembolism, history of cancer excluding nonmelanoma skin cancer, and a history of infertility treatment. "It has been known that progesterone probably plays a role in breast cancer, although our research is not as mature as it is for estrogen".

Women should discuss their contraceptive options with their doctor or gynecologist, Gaudet and Morch said.

The data are "a gold mine for doing these kinds of analyses", she said.

The new findings, reported in The New England Journal of Medicine, show that they do not, and the longer the products were used, the greater the danger.

"There was some suggestion in the paper that women might want to consider changing their contraceptive method when they get into their 40s, when their overall risk of breast cancer does start to increase".