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Contraceptive Pearl: Does Hormonal Birth Control Increase Cancer Risk?

My 23 year old patient has cancer in her family: her mother had breast cancer, and her paternal grandmother had ovarian cancer. Is it OK for her to take oral contraceptives?

2nd year Family Medicine resident

Contraceptive Pearl Answer:

Fear of cancer prevents many women from using hormonal contraceptives. However, contrary to popular belief, oral contraceptives (OC) do not raise women’s overall risk of cancer. In fact, OC use has been associated with significant reductions in ovarian and endometrial cancer. Current OC use may slightly increase breast cancer risk, but this risk disappears 5-10 years after women stop taking OCs. Even for BRCA1/2 carriers, the overall risk of breast and ovarian cancer is lower on OCs.

What’s the bottom line? Women currently being treated for breast or liver cancer cannot take OCs. However, women with a family history of cancer can take OCs: the pill’s cancer-related benefits outweigh its risks.

We appreciate your feedback! Please write us at pearls@reproductiveaccess.org with any questions, comments or additional resources to add to our list.

Helpful Resources

Medical Eligibility for Initiating Contraception

 

Sources

Cibula, D, et al.  Hormonal contraception and risk of cancer.  Human Reproduction Update.  2010 Nov-Dec; 16(6): 631-50.  Epub 2010 Jun 12.

Gimbizis GF, Tarlatzis BC.  The use of hormonal contraception and its protective role against endometrial and ovarian cancer.  Best Pract. Res Clinc Obstet Gynaecol. 2010 Feb; 24 (1): 29-38. Epub 2009.

Iodice S, et al.  Oral contraceptive use and breast or ovarian cancer risk in BRCA1/2 carriers: a meta-analysis.  [Review].  European Journal of Cancer.  2010; 46:2275-2284.

 

Pharma-free

The Reproductive Health Access Project does not accept funding from pharmaceutical companies. We do not promote specific brands of medication or contraception. The information in the Contraceptive Pearls is unbiased, based on science alone.