Large study finds that oral contraceptive use protects women against ovarian and endometrial cancer

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  • Oral contraceptives decrease women's chances of suffering from ovarian and endometrial cancer
  • Long after discontinuing the pill, women are still protected against these common cancers
  • Oral contraceptives, therefore, do more than just prevent pregnancy 

A new study by Uppsala University in Sweden found that oral contraceptive use protects against ovarian and endometrial cancer.

The research published in the journal Cancer Research, involving more than 250 000 women, also found that the protection against these common cancers in women lasted several decades after they stopped taking the pill.

More than just birth control

The first oral contraceptive was approved in the 1960s. The oestrogen and progestin in oral contraceptives prevent ovulation, which prevents pregnancy. The study looked at how these birth control methods could impact ovarian, breast and endometrial cancer in the United Kingdom.

Researchers looked at women who had taken these pills and those who had never used them. The results clearly indicated that those who were on contraceptives had a much lower risk of developing ovarian and endometrial cancer. Even 15 years after discontinuing the pills, their risk was 50% lower. A decreased risk was still detected up to 30 to 35 years after discontinuation.

Oral contraceptive pills have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. The study, however, revealed that the increased risk of breast cancer is small, says Åsa Johansson, one of the leading researchers, in a news release

“Surprisingly, we only found a small increased risk of breast cancer among oral contraceptive users, and the increased risk disappeared within a few years after discontinuation. Our results suggest that the lifetime risk of breast cancer might not differ between ever and never users, even if there is an increased short-term risk," according to Johansson.

Helping women choose the right contraceptive

The researchers say that this study shows that the uses of oral contraceptives go beyond pregnancy prevention.

"In addition to protecting against pregnancy, we have shown that oral contraceptive pills also have other positive effects. Our results can enable women and physicians to make more informed decisions about which women should use oral contraceptive pills," says Therese Johansson, who is also one of the researchers.

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