Monday, April 30, 2007

Birth Control Pills Raise Breast Cancer Risk

A Mayo Clinic meta study finds link between oral contraceptive pill use and increased pre-menopausal breast cancer risk. This connection is not entirely new to the medical community. The study documentation states (emphasis and brackets mine):

Approximately 2 in 15 American women are expected to develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and nearly 40,000 women die of the disease annually. During the past 4 decades [Incindentally, that's since thie 1960's when the Pill began to pick up greater popularity], breast cancer rates have risen steadily worldwide and have risen even faster in more developed countries, especially among younger women...

The Women’s Health Initiative Clinical Trial reported that prolonged exposure to exogenous estrogens and progestins in hormone therapy increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. In addition, the World Health Organization recently classified both postmenopausal hormone replacement and oral contraceptives (OCs) as group 1 carcinogens.

The ultimate conclusion of the study?

Use of OCs is associated with an increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer, especially with use before FFTP [First Full-Term Pregnancy] in parous women.

Read the entire 13 page document here.

"Parous" women are women who have had at least one full therm pregnancy. The translation? If you used birth control pills before your first full term pregnancy, your risk is particularly elevated. This is because "Differentiation of the mammary gland associated with pregnancy inhibits carcinogenic initiation and may explain the natural protection that pregnancy has been shown to confer."

Now, I know for a fact that there are women my age who were using the pill during their adolescence for everything from cycle regulation, to acne control to birth control--even as young as thirteen. And now they face increased breast-cancer risk because people have been throwing these pills around without hesitation? Not cool.

Of course, this is also bad news for women who are on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to combat hot flashes and osteoporosis. The good news for them is HRT contains lower doses of estrogens and progestins than what are found in birth control pills. The other good news is, in the years since this has been known (yes, it's been years), the increased cancer risks from HRT have caused doctors to minimize its use, and drug companies have been coming out with new treatments for osteoporosis.

For those of us who have a little while before we will need to worry about menopause, this certainly gives us one more reason (in addition to increased cardiovascular risks such as stroke and heart attack) to avoid ingesting synthetic hormones during our reproductive years, especially if we have not yet had a full-term pregnancy. Once again, another reason to consider NFP, and one more reason to ask your doctor for other ideas if s/he wants to use oral contraceptives to treat your (or your daughter's) acne or menstrual cramps. Hmm. PMS or increased breast cancer risk...gee tough decision.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for raising awareness to the issue of oral contraceptives and breast cancer. The media attention has focused primarily on postmenopausal women and hormone replacement therapy, but birth control pills continue to be associated with an increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer. It seems the younger women are being left out when it comes to concern over health. I am sure any postmenopausal woman requesting HRT would be informed of the risks, but most young women on OC's I have talked to were never informed of this risk.

Lynne Eldridge M.D.
Author, "Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time"

Christina said...

Thank you.

It is positively shocking how little this information is publicized. Given how many women worldwide are on these pills, one would think that the discovery of their carcinogenic properties would be all over CNN! Instead it is rarely mentioned.

I myself have been offered OC's for menstrual cramps and ovarian cysts, with no mention from any doctor of this issue at all, and when I asked about other options for these things, I am usually met with a confused look--from physicians who appear to be highly competent in every other respect.

When I learn of things such as this I become increasingly relieved that I refused them.

I am also dismayed that the tendency to throw OC's at everything from acne and dysmenorrhea to uterine fibroids and PCOS seems to be depriving the medical community of a great opportunity to discover the roots of various gynecological problems.