Study confirms higher breast cancer risk with hormone-based contraception

Study confirms higher breast cancer risk with hormone-based contraception

A study published Wednesday has linked newer-generation birth control pills with breast cancer; the link had already been established for older variants of hormonal contraception.

The study of nearly 2 million women in Denmark looked at women using birth control methods such as the pill, NuvaRing, or implants.

Current and recent use of hormonal contraceptives was associated with a 20 percent increased risk of breast cancer.

So the message to women taking hormonal contraceptives-no need to stop immediately.

"We did actually expect we would find a smaller increase in risk because today we have lower doses of estrogen in the hormone contraceptives, so it was surprising that we found this association", said Lina S. Mørch, a senior researcher at the University of Copenhagen and the paper's lead author.

The study is not likely to impact clinical practice for mammograms or contraceptive use, but women should be aware of the new information, especially if there is a history of breast cancer in their family.

"The increased risk also with newer progestins in hormonal contraceptives has not been shown consistently before, though progestins in postmenopausal therapy has also been found to increase the risk of breast cancer", she added.

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Officials with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that they would carefully evaluate the new findings, but emphasized that hormonal contraceptives are for many women "among the most safe, effective and accessible options available".

It's a disappointment to doctors who had hoped that lower doses of hormones in both oral and non-pill contraceptives might be safer than older birth control pills.

Shirazian notes that for women of average risk of breast cancer, the concern is not high. Women who used any form hormonal contraception for more than 10 years (1.38, 95% CI 1.26-1.51) had a higher risk compared to those who reported less than 1 year of use (1.09, 95% CI 0.96-1.23)(P=0.002), they wrote online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Mørch said that "knowledge is needed on the potential beneficial influence of newer contraceptives on the risk of ovarian and colorectal cancer, since evidence now relates to older types of hormonal contraceptives". Women who had used hormonal birth control for less than a year had only a 9 percent increase in their relative risk, while women who had used birth control for more than 10 years had a 38 percent increase. Experts who reviewed the research say women should balance the news against known benefits of the pill - including lowering the risk of other cancers. "Taking a very low absolute risk and increasing it only slightly is still a relatively low risk". The findings indicate that the hormone progestin is adding to breast cancer risk; some of the contraceptive pills and numerous IUDs included only progestin, Mørch said. "There was some suggestion in the paper that women might want to consider changing their contraceptive method when they get into their 40s, when their overall risk of breast cancer does start to increase".

Even if the relative risk increases 20 per cent, it remains less than one-tenth of 1 per cent. "That is not a huge risk increase", she told NBC News. What they should know, however, is that the longer they take them, the greater the chance they will develop breast cancer.

Duration of use also contributed to associated breast cancer risk.

The new study looked at all women in Denmark ages 15 to 49 who had not had cancer, clots in their veins, or treatment for infertility. But he suggested doctors take time to discuss the pros and cons of different types of contraception with their patients, and that they be frank about the potential risks, suggesting women reassess hormone use as they age.

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