Oral Contraceptives and Breast Cancer Risk

February 2, 2018


Please note that when oral contraceptives are referred to in this article- it excludes post-menopausal hormone replacements for older women. The latter is physiological replacement.


Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine (2017) published a study by Mørch and colleagues, indicating that breast cancer risk in women increased by 20% when using oral contraceptives.  Initially this risk was reported as being present with the use of older, high-dose contraceptives. It has been found that for newer formulations, the same applies. This is also true for devices such as the Marena.


Now, before having a panic attack we need to understand a few things. You need to place the 20% in the context of the low incidence rates of breast cancer in younger women. The increase in risk is maximum 13 per 100 000 women overall; but will decrease to 2 women per 100 000 in the age group 35 years and below. In the study by Mørch et al, mainly women over 40 years of age were entered into the trial. 


We also strongly urge that you familiarize yourself with the benefits of using oral contraceptives. Not only does it promote a healthier family planning lifestyle, but it will benefit women with dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia. The use of oral contraceptives has also been shown to reduce the risk of the following cancers: ovarian, endometrial and colorectal. There is also recent data that suggests a total overall risk reduction for developing cancer with the use of oral contraceptives in women (for 5 years or longer). Although this risk reduction may be very small, it is significant.


It is interesting to note that in the 1980s and 1990s there was hope for a new oral contraceptive that would reduce breast cancer risk. This, however, has not materialized. Perhaps one day?


Prof therefore urges women to understand the overall benefits of taking oral contraceptives. However, if there is a family history of breast cancer- be very careful and consult your gynaecologist as a matter of course. 


Do not be fooled by internet sensationalism- place everything into context and ALWAYS search for answers from proper medical research and factual correctness.

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