Can oral contraceptive pills influence the risk of breast cancer? This a difficult question to answer. In medicine, we tend to look at risks and benefits, because all medications, even acetaminophen or vitamins, have side effects and risks. Most oral contraceptives contain synthetic versions of estrogen and progesterone, the main “female” hormones. Taking a birth control pill changes your body’s hormone levels, which can influence the risk of certain cancers. This influence is not always bad since the pill decreases your changes of ovarian and colon cancer!
Some early studies have shown current or recent use of birth control has a very small increase in risk of breast cancer. It is unknown if this is a progesterone or estrogen effect. There is also a question whether these women already had breast cancer that was not detectable at the time of starting the pills.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer depends on more than one factor. Age of first menstruation, natural hormones, experiencing menopause at a late age, not having children, or having your first pregnancy at an older age can all influence your risk of breast cancer in your lifetime.
It is important to note the following things when thinking about the pill and breast cancer:
- Some of the studies are old and used higher hormonal doses than what we commonly give today.
- After about five years of stopping birth control pills, this small risk returns to the normal age-related risk.
- Commonly, we use birth control options when women are younger, so your breast cancer risk is very low to begin with.
- Pregnancy poses greater health risks, such as blood clots, diabetes, birth trauma, high blood pressure, and more.
- Birth control pills lower other types of cancer risks, including ovarian, uterine, and colon!
- The three main non-hormonal types of birth control are condoms, copper IUD, and diaphragm, and they have their pros and cons, too.
- The other types of contraception (the patch, ring, or shot) have very limited data regarding the link to breast cancer.
Family history of breast cancer or BRCA
Studies show the pill does not increase breast cancer risk much for women who have BRCA or a strong family history. However, this is different from women with current or history of breast cancer. Any woman with a family history of gynecological cancers (breast, ovarian, and uterine) should see their doctors to discuss if they are a candidate for genetic testing. There are some genes that have an increased risk of endometrial or ovarian cancer and being on a birth control pill can greatly decrease this risk.
In the end, it is about choosing the right type of birth control for your lifestyle and concerns. If you have any questions, call your doctor or make an appointment with me at PremierOBGYNdenver.com.
About Diana Kumar, MD
Diana Kumar, MD is an obstetrician and gynecologist at Premier Integrated OBGYN. She earned her medical degree at Texas A&M University. Always drawn to taking care of women, she completed her internship and residency in obstetrics and gynecology at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver. Fluent in Vietnamese, Dr. Kumar enjoys sharing all the life milestones with her patients and taking care of them and their families. Outside of the exam room, Dr. Kumar enjoys trying new restaurants, traveling, and trying to keep up with her husband and two kids. Make an appointment with Dr. Kumar online or call 303-393-4330.