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The Pill ... No Breast Cancer Risk

The Pill Is Safe
Surprise. There is no increased risk of breast cancer for women who use the pill.

According to a study reported in the June 27, 2002 New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM, Vol. 346, No. 26: 2025-2032) there is no evidence that oral contraceptive use increases breast cancer risk.

Past Research
Researchers had questions about the "definitive" 1996 report that verified the link between breast cancer and oral contraceptives. That report analyzed 54 studies that had been conducted over the last 25 years. It found that past use of oral contraceptives increased a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.

To verify the past studies, Polly A. Marchbanks, PhD, and colleagues from centers around the US, interviewed more than 9,000 women with and without breast cancer.

Looking At Other Factors
They did not just look at whether women had used, or were using oral contraceptives. They asked women age 35 to 64, questions about their education, income, exercise habits, alcohol use, and smoking histories.

The study found no evidence that oral contraceptives had any effect on increasing the risk of breast cancer in any situation. The analysis included type of contraceptive, age, race, and many others breast cancer risk factors.

The study found that even women with a family history of breast cancer did not increase their risk of getting the disease by using the Pill.

The study did not look at the associated risks of oral contraceptives for women known to have either BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. The authors did caution that other studies have shown oral contraceptives to increase the already high risk of breast cancer in women with BRCA mutations.

Experts Praise The Findings
In an editorial in the same issue of the NEJM (2078-2079), Nancy E. Davidson, MD, and Kathy J. Helzlsouer, MD, MHS, from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore praised the study.

"The importance of this finding for public health is enormous, because more than 75% of the women in the study had used oral contraceptives. No subgroup of women who used oral contraceptives had a significantly increased risk of breast cancer. On the whole, &the results of this study should be reassuring to the millions of women who take oral contraceptives," they wrote.

An American Cancer Society (ACS) expert agrees. "This is good news for women who have been concerned about the use of oral contraceptives," said senior epidemiologist Carmen Rodriguez, MD, MPH. "For women who do not smoke, use of oral contraceptives seems to have more benefits than risks, including reducing the risk of ovarian cancer," she said.

But, the doctors noted, there are some risks for women who take oral contraceptives. This is especially true for women over 35 years of age who smoke and therefore have a greater chance of a heart attack if they use oral contraceptives. But, they said, the benefits of oral contraceptives clearly outweigh the risks.

Davidson and Helzlsouer said, "Attention should shift from concern about the possible adverse effects of current oral contraceptives to the identification of an ideal oral contraceptive, one that would reduce the risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer without cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) complications."

SOURCES: American Cancer Society

Elsewhere on the Web:

Hope for new contraceptive option

Breast cancer: is the Pill a threat?

Overview: Breast Cancer and the Pill

Last Updated April 21, 2017





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