A recent Danish study has linked hormone-based birth control methods to an increased risk of breast cancer, but experts say these contraceptives have protective effects.
The research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists collected data from 1.8 million women between the ages of 15 and 49 for nearly 11 years.
They found that hormone-based birth control methods were linked to 13 extra cases of breast cancer among 100,000 women using these these contraceptives for a year.
However, the overall risk is small and varies depending on a woman’s age and genetics.
In fact, some experts say women should not be alarmed because the benefits of birth control outweigh the risks.
‘The absolute risk cancer is very small,’ epidemiologist Dr JoAnn Manson of Brigham And Women’s Hospital told Daily Mail Online. ‘There are counter-balancing benefits [of hormone-based birth control methods]’
Should you be concerned? A study last week showed links between hormonal contraceptives and breast cancer. But experts insist there are cancer-lowering benefits from the Pill too
BIRTH CONTROL PILLS LINKED TO REDUCED RISK OF CANCER, AND OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS
There are studies that support Dr Manson’s claim that hormone-based contraceptives protect against several types of cancer.
Research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics of Gynecology earlier this year, examined data from 46,000 women for up to 44 years and found that women who had ever used oral contraceptives were less likely to develop colorectal, endometrial and ovarian cancer.
The study revealed contraceptive pills were associated with a 33 percent reduced risk of developing endometrial and ovarian cancer, and about a 20 percent reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Researchers also found that these protective benefits seemed to last more than 30 years after women have stopped using the pill.
A 2015 study published in The Lancet Oncology also found that oral contraceptives reduced the risk of developing endometrial cancer, while another study published last year in the Annals of Oncology found that they protect against dying from ovarian cancer.
Another published in the Journal of Women’s Health in 2012 linked contraceptive pills to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Researchers found that women on birth control scored higher on cognitive tests than women who had never taken birth control. These effects could also be seen for years after the women had stopped taking the pill.
Although that study focuses specifically on oral contraceptive pills, Dr Manson stresses that no studies have linked hormone-based contraceptives to an increased absolute risk of cancer and mortality.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
Researchers aren’t sure why certain birth control methods are linked to a slight increase of developing breast cancer, but they think estrogen or progesterone may have something to do with it.
But Dr Manson said the absolute risk of developing breast cancer are small and these findings are ‘unlikely to have a major impact for most women.’
However, for those who are worried, there are birth control methods that do not contain hormones that are effective and affordable.
Many people are familiar with Mirena, Liletta and Skyla IUDs which used the hormone progestin. But there’s a hormone-based IUDs called Paragard which can protect against pregnancy for up to 12 years.
Meanwhile, the hormone-based IUDs only work for three to six years.
The Paragard IUD is wrapped in a tiny copper and inserted into the uterus.
‘Sperm doesn’t like copper so the ParaGard IUD or Paragard Birth Control makes it almost impossible for sperm to get to that egg,’ according to the Planned Parenthood website.
Paragard is more than 99.9 percent effective, and can even well as an emergency contraceptive if its inserted within five days after having unprotected sex.
This contraceptive also has the same health benefits of a hormone-based contraceptive. According to the American Cancer Society, Paragard IUDs can also lower the risk of cervical and endometrial cancer.
Alternative: According to the American Cancer Society, Paragard IUDs (pictured) can lower the risk of cervical and endometrial cancer
Another hormone-free contraceptive option is the birth control sponge. It’s an small item made from soft, squishy plastic that is placed inside the vagina up to 24 hours before having sex.
The sponge covers the cervix and contains spermicide to help prevent pregnancy. When inserted properly, the sponge is 91 percent effective, according to Planned Parenthood.
However, when factoring in the difficulty of using the sponge, it is realistically 88 percent effective for women who have never given birth, and 76 percent effective for women who have given birth before.
Spermicide is another hormone-free birth control method. Its a chemical that’s inserted into the vagina before sex.
It prevents pregnancy by blocking the entrance to the cervix so the sperm can’t join the egg, and by stopping the sperm from moving well enough to swim to the egg.
This method is fairly effective. According to Planned Parenthood, 28 out of 100 women who use spermicide will become pregnant within a year.
Another hormone-free alternative is condoms. In addition to preventing pregnancy they also prevent STDS. Women who use condoms every single time they have sex are 85 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, meaning 15 out of 100 people who use condoms as they’re only birth control method will get pregnant each year.
WHEN TO TAKE A BREAK FROM HORMONES
The study also found that women who used hormone-based birth control methods for more than 10 years had a 38 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer.
To limit those risks, people could reduce the number of years they’re taking birth control pills. Researchers found no risk in those who were on the pill for less than one year.
However, experts say many observational studies that have linked contraceptives to and increased risk of breast cancer have caveats that may effect research results.
‘When patents are on the pill, they have to come into their gynecologist or family doctor more frequently to get checked and get more prescription refills,’ obstetrician-gynecologist Dr Laura MacIsaac told Health Magazine. ‘So they get more breast exams, pap smears and can report things to their doctor more frequently.
This means doctors are more likely to pick up cancer in pill users than women who aren’t on the pill and don’t visit the doctor as often.
Similarly, Dr Manson also said these studies don’t control for how often their subjects get breast cancer screenings, alcohol consumption and other factors that may increase risk of breast cancer or diagnosis.
‘These findings have to be put into perspectives,’ Dr Manson said. ‘For women who have an increased risk of breast cancer have been taking contraceptives for years, but for most women these findings are unlikely to have a major impact.’