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Birth control may be putting women at risk for breast cancer

07 December 2017

"For many women, hormonal contraception-the pill, the patch, the ring, IUDs, and the implant-is among the most safe, effective and accessible options available", said the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists's vice president of practice, Dr. Chris Zahn.

"If you compare this to other risks, such as obesity and being overweight, there's more of a risk with obesity than if you take a few years of oral contraceptives", Rao told Reuters Health by phone. But they stress there is no need for most women to abandon birth control pills for fear of breast cancer.

"It's really quite small - not to say it's zero". "There was some suggestion in the paper that women might want to consider changing their contraceptive method when they get into their 40s, when their overall risk of breast cancer does start to increase". The study used an average of 10 years of data from more than 1.8 million Danish women.

Researchers in Denmark analyzed data on 1.8 million women and found that using any type of hormonal contraceptive was linked to a 20-percent higher risk of breast cancer. Out of those women, for every 100,000 participants, the use of hormonal birth control caused an additional 13 cases of breast cancer each year.

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Breast cancer is the second-biggest cancer killer of American women, after lung cancer.

For some perspective, about 252,710 American women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, according to estimates from the National Institutes of Health; 12.4 percent of women will hear the diagnosis at some point in their lives. Given that this study out of Denmark is the first to look at the potential risks associated with the current versions of birth control pills and devices, the fact that a correlation between hormonal contraceptive users and breast cancer constitutes a major medical finding.

Researchers accounted for education, childbirth and family history of breast cancer, but they weren't able to adjust for several other known cancer risk factors such as alcohol use and limited physical activity, or protective factors such as breast-feeding.

"Unfortunately this was not the case and additional research is needed to tweak the formulation". As research began to link estrogen to breast cancer, the FDA took off the market any formulations that had more than 50 micrograms of estrogen, Gaudet said.

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There was optimism that newer, low-dose contraceptives would lower the breast cancer risk, but these results have dashed those hopes, said Gaudet, who wasn't involved in the research.

Mørch explained to MedPage Today that "there was a lack of evidence on contemporary hormonal contraception and risk of breast cancer". The women were followed for almost 11 years. 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.

The paper did not make any note of whether birth control impacted mortality from breast cancer, Leath noted. "Taking a very low absolute risk and increasing it only slightly is still a relatively low risk".

"That is a very small extra risk". The number of women in the United States with intrauterine devices, many of which release hormones, has grown in recent years, as has the number of women using other types of hormonal contraceptive implants.

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The risk was 9 percent higher with less than one year of use and 38 percent higher with more than 10 years of use. For a 20-year-old woman, for example, the probability of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years is 0.06 per cent, or 1 in 1,732, according to breastcancer.org. 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.

Birth control may be putting women at risk for breast cancer