Some birth control raises risk of breast cancer, study says

Even New Birth Control Pills May Raise Women's Breast Cancer Risk

Even New Birth Control Pills May Raise Women's Breast Cancer Risk

This risk increased from 1.09 with less than 1 year of use to 1.38 with more than a decade of use. Therefore, it wasn't clear if this risk applied to newer formulations of birth control pills or to other birth control methods, including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants that contain only the hormone progestin.

The study didn't find any big distinctions between the hormonal method women used-those who used combined oral contraceptives (which use estrogen and progestin) and those who used progestin-only methods each had a higher risk.

Obesity has always been known to increase the risk of some cancers and scientists believe that weight could overtake smoking as the single biggest avoidable cause of the disease.

Researchers followed more than 1.8 million women for an average of eight years.

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"As compared with women who had never used hormonal contraception, an increased risk of breast cancer was observed among women who had previously used hormonal contraception for a long period of time", the researchers wrote in the study released this week in The New England Journal of Medicine. They found the risk of the development for breast cancer in hormone users was about 20 percent higher in all users. But if they had taken hormonal contraception for more than five years, the higher risk of breast cancer persisted for at least five years after their discontinuation of hormonal birth control, the study found. They followed the women for almost 11 years, on average.

When the researchers examined a number of different hormonal formulations used in birth control, they found that all of the formulations raised the risk of breast cancer by about the same amount.

Twenty percent sounds like a lot, but Dr. Elisa Port, the director of the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai, says "really the overall numerical increase is quite marginal".

Once women stopped using these forms of birth control, the increased risk of breast cancer disappeared if the women had used hormonal contraception for less than five years.

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Birth control has also been linked to lower incidences of uterine, endometrial and colon cancers later in life.

The study also looked at younger people, when older people are more often diagnosed with cancer, Hobart said.

The risk rose with longer use. In other words, please don't freak out over the headlines this study may generate.

But the search must continue for risk-free options, he concluded. "But this study reminds us this is an important objective". Novo Nordisk is a pharmaceutical company whose products include hormonal drugs aimed at treating menopausal symptoms. Such a study would be useful, he said, to show that hormonal contraception, "risks and all", may be essential to preventing pregnancy in some women with high risk for other medical conditions, such as diabetes.

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