Birth Control: Breast cancer risks moderately raised from birth control pills, study suggests

CHICAGO — Modern birth control pills that are lower in estrogen have fewer side effects than past oral contraceptives. But a large Danish study suggests that, like older pills, they still modestly raise the risk of breast cancer, especially with long-term use.

Researchers found a similar breast cancer risk with the progestin-only intrauterine device, and they couldn’t rule out a risk for other hormonal contraceptives like the patch and the implant.

But the overall increased risk was small, amounting to one extra case of breast cancer among 7,700 women using such contraceptives per year. Experts who reviewed the research say women should balance the news against known benefits of the pill — including lowering the risk of other cancers.

“Hormonal contraception should still be perceived as a safe and effective option for family planning,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who was not involved in the research. 

“You have to balance it against potential benefits of using hormones, for example, decreasing the risk of ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer or colon cancer,” CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook said Wednesday on “CBS Evening News.” 

“And, of course, there’s the benefit of preventing an unwanted pregnancy. I think it ultimately comes down to a discussion between the doctor, or other clinician, and the woman. It can’t be a rushed discussion. They’ve got to slowly discuss specifically what works for her.”

Women in their 40s may want to consider non-hormonal IUDs, getting their tubes tied or talking with their partners about vasectomy, Manson said. 

Studies of older birth control pills have shown “a net cancer benefit” because of lowered risk of cancer of the colon, uterus and ovaries despite a raised breast cancer risk, said Mia Gaudet, a breast cancer epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society.

There was optimism that newer, low-dose contraceptives would lower the breast cancer risk, but these results have dashed those hopes, said Gaudet, who wasn’t involved in the research.

About 140 million women use some type of hormonal contraception, including about 16 million in the United States.

Researchers analyzed health records of 1.8 million women, ages 15 to 49, in Denmark where a national health care system allows linking up large databases of prescription histories, cancer diagnoses and other information.

Results were published Wednesday in the New England Journal of…

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