A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Birth control: Does it affect my cancer risk?

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Research shows birth control pills don’t increase your cancer risk but do decrease your risks for three types of cancer.

Concern about risks of using birth control pills is common.

One thing you don’t have to worry about is increased cancer risk, despite what you may have heard.

“Hormonal contraception does not cause any increase in risk of cancer,” said Dr. Joseph Welter, a Marshfield Clinic OB-GYN physician.

In fact, hormonal birth control decreases your risk for several cancers.

No increase for cancer risk

Older research found a link between birth control pill use and breast cancer. Recent studies with more participants using the type of birth control pills prescribed today show the pills don’t increase breast cancer risk, Welter said.

A slight association has been shown between oral contraceptive use and cervical cancer. That means women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer were slightly more likely to use birth control pills, not that the pills cause cervical cancer. It has been proven that human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common cause of cervical cancer.

Progesterone-only birth control, including the Mirena IUD, Depo-Provera shot and Nexplanon implant, don’t increase cancer risk. In fact, progesterone often is used to treat pre-cancerous conditions of the uterus, Welter said.

Decreased risk for some cancers

Taking birth control pills decreases your risk for ovarian, uterine and colorectal cancers. The protective effect lasts up to 15 years for uterine cancer after you stop using birth control and up to 30 years for ovarian cancer, Welter said.

Progesterone-only birth control protects against uterine cancer by causing the inner lining of the uterus to become thin. You’re protected even after you stop using birth control.

Reducing cancer risk

“It’s often recommended women who have a family history of ovarian or endometrial cancer use birth control pills because of their protective effect,” Welter said.

Talk to your doctor about things that do increase your cancer risk, like having your first child after age 30 or taking hormone replacement therapy for more than three years. Ask about ways to reduce your risk and cancer screenings you should get regularly.

Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to reduce your cancer risk:

  • Weight management – Higher estrogen levels in women who are overweight or obese increase their risk for some types of cancer
  • Exercise
  • Balanced diet
  • Smoking cessation
  • Avoiding alcohol or drinking in moderation
  1. Apr 11, 2019
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