Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are hormone-containing medications that are taken orally. They prevent pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation and preventing sperm from entering the cervix.
According to one study, women who used oral contraceptives had a much lower risk of developing both ovarian and endometrial cancer. A large study from Uppsala University involving over 250,000 women found that using oral contraception protects against ovarian and endometrial cancer. The protective effect lasts for decades after the drug is no longer used. The findings have been published in the journal Cancer Research.
With a lifetime risk of just over 2%, ovarian and endometrial cancer are among the most common gynecological cancers. Endometrial cancer is slightly more common, but because the symptoms are more obvious and thus often detected at an early stage, the mortality rate is low. However, ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest cancers because it is frequently not detected until it has spread to other parts of the body.
A comprehensive study involving more than 250,000 women, shows that oral contraceptive use protects against ovarian and endometrial cancer. The protective effect remains for several decades after discontinuing the use.
The first oral contraceptive pill was approved in the 1960s, and 80 percent of all women in Western Europe have used them at some point in their lives. Oral contraceptives contain synthetic forms of the female sex hormones oestrogen and progestin. Oral contraceptives contain oestrogen and progestin, which prevent ovulation and thus protect against pregnancy.
Observational studies, both large prospective cohort studies, and population-based case-control studies account for nearly all of the research on the link between oral contraceptives and cancer risk. Data from observational studies cannot prove conclusively that a particular exposure—in this case, oral contraceptives—causes (or prevents) cancer. That’s because women who use oral contraceptives may differ from those who don’t in ways other than their oral contraceptive use, and it’s possible that these other differences, rather than their oral contraceptive use, explain their different cancer risks.
The researchers compared the incidence of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers in women who had used oral contraceptive pills to women who had never used them.
“It was clear that women who used oral contraceptive pills had a significantly lower risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. The risk was about 50% lower fifteen years after stopping using oral contraceptives. However, reduced risk was detected up to 30-35 years after the drug was stopped “One of the study’s leading researchers, as Johansson of Uppsala University’s Department of Immunology, Genetics, and Pathology, says.
Oral contraceptive pills, on the other hand, have previously been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Some cancers are aided in their development and growth by naturally occurring estrogen and progesterone (e.g., cancers that express receptors for these hormones, such as breast cancer). Because birth control pills contain synthetic versions of these female hormones, they may increase the risk of cancer.
“Surprisingly, we only found a small increased risk of breast cancer among oral contraceptive users, and the increased risk vanished after a few years,” Johansson says. “Our findings suggest that, even if there is an increased short-term risk, the lifetime risk of breast cancer may not differ between ever and never users.”
The current study’s findings are significant because oral contraceptive use has been linked to a variety of adverse effects, including deep vein thrombosis and breast cancer. “We have demonstrated that, in addition to preventing pregnancy, oral contraceptive pills have other beneficial effects. Our findings may help women and doctors make more informed decisions about which women should use oral contraceptives “According to Therese Johansson, one of the study’s Ph.D. students.