Contraceptive Pearl: Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk

Fear of cancer prevents many people from using birth control pills. However, contrary to popular belief, oral contraceptives (OC) do not raise one’s overall risk of cancer. In fact, OC use has been associated with significant reductions in ovarian, colorectal, and endometrial cancer. This benefit persists more than 30 years after stopping OCs. Current OC use may slightly increase breast cancer risk, but this risk disappears 5 years after patients stop taking OCs. Even for BRCA 1/2 carriers, the overall risk of ovarian cancer is lower on OCs, with a greater risk reduction for those who use OCs longer.

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

Helpful Resources

Medical Eligibility for Initiating Contraception


Iversen L., Sivasubramaniam S., Lee, AJ. et al. Lifetime cancer risk and combined oral contraceptives: the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Oral Contraception Study. American Journal of Obstretrics & Gynecology. 2017;6:580.e1-580.e9.

Giersich, JM. et al. Oral contraceptive use and risk of breast, cervical, colorectal, and endometrial cancers: a systematic review. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2013. 22.11: 1931-1943.

Iodice S, et al. Oral contraceptive use and breast or ovarian cancer risk in BRCA 1/2 carriers: a meta-analysis. [Review]. European Journal of Cancer. 2010; 46:2275-2284.


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.