Birth control linked to 20% higher risk of breast cancer

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A hormone specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital who deals with contraceptive issues says the study shouldn't alarm those taking oral contraceptives. 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. It turns out they didn't, according to a massive new study. This means that out of 100,000 women on the pill, there will be 68 breast cancer diagnosis annuals-compared to 55 for non birth control users. "Why not pursue another option?"

"Hormonal contraceptives were initially used for contraception, but we" ve recognized over the years that this is actually hormonal therapy that can be used for many non-contraceptive-type conditions such as menstrual irregularities, heavy periods, and as a great alternative to hysterectomy for a lot of women," she says. Yet the new study found increased risks that were similar in magnitude to the heightened risks reported in earlier studies based on birth control pills used in the 1980s and earlier, Hunter said.

In fact, birth control increases breast cancer risk about as much as drinking alcohol does, said Dr. Mary Beth Terry, an epidemiologist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Specifically, the study found that it may be the hormone progestin - a key component of many of today's hormonal contraceptives - that is behind the breast cancer risk. The hope was the lower dose would decrease breast cancer risk. And there's a strong suggestion they also reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Despite the risk, women will continue to use the pharmaceuticals, Morch said.

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The study looked at data from 1.8 million women between the ages of 15 and 49 over more than a decade. And for those who take the drugs for five years or more, the risk will persist for as long as five years after they stop, she said. Still, the additional risk would result in a comparatively few additional cases of breast cancer, the researchers said.

The study of nearly 2 million women in Denmark looked at women using birth control methods such as the pill, NuvaRing, or implants. "So, many calculations suggest that the use of oral contraceptives actually prevents more cancers than it causes". It's even lower among younger women since breast cancer in this age group is relatively rare.

Even if the relative risk increases 20 per cent, it remains less than one-tenth of 1 per cent.

NEIGHMOND: All of these forms of hormonal contraception increased breast cancer risk by 20 percent. "Unfortunately, none of these products are risk-free".

In Denmark, older women who have completed their families are most likely to use IUDs, including those containing hormones, and they are already more likely to develop breast cancer because of their age, Mørch said. But he suggested doctors take time to discuss the pros and cons of different types of contraception with their patients, and that they be frank about the potential risks, suggesting women reassess hormone use as they age.

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