There are many forms of birth control available: oral contraceptives (birth control pills), intrauterine devices (IUDs), the implant or patch, condoms. But according to Cancer Therapy Advisor, a new study shows that oral contraceptives could provide lasting benefits – even after discontinuation of use. In a study published in Cancer Research, the researchers determine that using oral contraceptives reduces the risk of both ovarian and endometrial cancer for up to 35 years following discontinuation.
The JAMA Network describes oral contraceptives as:
safe and reliable option for preventing unwanted pregnancy. Most oral contraceptives contain a combination of 2 types of hormones: an estrogen and a progestin, [both of which] are naturally found in women’s bodies.
These pills have been available for nearly 6 decades and, if taken perfectly, the risk of pregnancy is extremely low. Additionally, the use of these pills has often been presumed to lower the risk of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer. However, research on the long-term effects of use has not been deeply studied. This is because, for accurate data, researchers would need to be able to track women from their first birth control pills through their later-in-life experiences.
In this study, researchers sourced data from a total of 256,661 women: 82% of whom used or had used oral contraceptives, and 18% who had never used them. On average, women using the pills had been using them, or had used them, for 10.7 years. Researchers sourced data from the UK Biobank cohort born between 1939-1970 who had not been diagnosed with cancer when they began using birth control. The study determined:
- Women who used oral contraceptives had a smaller risk of developing ovarian or endometrial cancer than those who did not. Long-term birth control use (20+ years) correlated with a significantly lower risk.
- Breast cancer risk was heightened in those who stopped using oral contraceptives, although this risk only lasted for around 2 years following discontinuation.
- One researcher suggests that because ovarian and endometrial cancer are linked to ovulation, oral contraceptives provide protection, whereas birth control might grow the breast tissue (and thus tumor) for a short time.
However, additional research is needed to understand how active compounds in oral contraceptives affect the actual protective nature of the pills.
Endometrial cancer develops in the lining of the uterus, the female organ in which fetal development occurs. This is the most common form of uterine cancer; others include uterine sarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and serous carcinoma. Risk factors for developing endometrial cancer include hormonal changes; early menstruation or late menopause; obesity; older age; never having been pregnant; colon cancer; or hormone therapy, often administered to treat breast cancer. Endometrial cancer is easier to treat if diagnosed in early stages. Potential symptoms to look out for include:
- Spotting or vaginal bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, including irregular menstruation
- Unintended weight loss
- A mass in the uterine or pelvic area (often not felt until later stages)
- Difficult or painful urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Abnormal vaginal discharge