New birth control pills offer more protection against ovarian cancer, research finds

A link between the birth control pills and lesser rates of ovarian cancer has long been recognized. Researchers find the longer women take the oral contraception, the lower their risk of ovarian cancer.

Researchers surveyed the influence of new versions of these pills on the rates of ovarian cancer in young women. Newer versions usually have lower doses of estrogen and older progestogens as compared to the older versions of the pill. Now new research has observed that the newer versions of the oral contraceptives can provide even better protection.

When abnormal cells in the ovary multiply out of control forming tumor thus ultimately causing ovarian cancer. This is called as metastatic ovarian cancer. The ovaries are the two female reproductive glands which produce eggs, or ova. They also produce the female hormones progesterone and estrogen.

The research found that not only newer forms of the pill were related to a lower risk of ovarian cancer. But the protective welfares were far greater with use of longer duration.

“We found a lower risk of ovarian cancer in recent users of hormonal contraceptives than in previous users. This reduction in risk became even stronger the longer time period hormonal contraceptives were used, and the lowered risk remained for several years after stopping,” Lisa Iversen, Ph.D. told this, who is a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and lead author of the study.

“By observing the previous studies of the association between combined oral contraceptives and ovarian cancer, these results might have been expected. Though, former studies were totally based on women who were generally older than reproductive age and therefore previous users of oral contraceptives who would have used older products,” she said.

“It was required to conduct this study to examine whether hormonal contraceptive use in women currently of reproductive age would still be linked with a reduced risk of ovarian cancer,” Iversen said.

What the research revealed

To start their research, Iversen and her colleagues surveyed data from almost 1.9 million women in Denmark having ages between 15 and 49.

The women were placed into three categories;

  • women who had never used the pill
  • recent or current users of the pill who had stopped in the previous 12 months
  • former users who had stopped using the pill more than 12 months ago

Combined oral contraceptives accounted for 86 percent of the use of hormonal contraceptives. The researchers also took into account some factors like age, education, and family history of ovarian cancer. They observed that rates of ovarian cancer were highest among those women who had never taken the pill. On the other hand, women who had taken the pill were found to have lesser rates of ovarian cancer.

Based on their findings, the researchers evaluate that hormonal contraceptives prevented nearly 21 percent of ovarian cancers among those women who used the oral contraceptive pill.

The researchers did not discover any sign of a protective consequence against ovarian cancer for women who had taken only progestogen products. But Iversen finds that only a small number of women in the study utterly used such forms of birth control pills. So, the data may not be firm enough for a good indication.

Women and cancer

There are approximately 61 million women are of reproductive age in the United States. Out of these, professionals estimate that slightly more than 15 percent, or nearly 9 million women, use birth control pills.

The American Cancer Society in 2018 estimates that 22,000 women in the United States will get a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. But 14,000 will die from the condition. The fifth cause of cancer deaths among women is ovarian cancer. It causes more deaths to women than any other form of cancer of the female reproductive system. Almost all research on cancer and birth control pills has been observational and thus it cannot absolutely prove whether the pill can cause or prevent cancer.

But studies from the National Cancer Institute, have provided consistent evidence. According to that for women who use birth control pills, risks of cervical and breast and cancers increase, and risks of colorectal, ovarian, and endometrial cancer decrease. Researchers have also assumed a number of good reasons why the birth control pill is connected to lower cancer risks. In the case of ovarian cancer, it is likely as it suppresses ovulation.

“The complete number of ovulation cycles which a woman has in her reproductive life is interrelated with the risk of ovarian cancer. Whatever thing declines the number of ovulation is directly linked with decreased ovarian cancer risk. It includes pregnancy, breastfeeding… and use of the oral contraceptive pill.

But the uses of oral contraceptive pills usually weakens with time after the woman is not using the pill,” Dr. Gary Scott Leiserowitz, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at Davis, told this.

Cancer and the pill

Preceding research has found that the women who use oral contraceptives have a 30 to 50 percent lower risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who never use that. This defense increases with the extent of time a woman uses birth control pills. According to former studies on older forms of the birth control pill propose that this benefit can last up to 30 years after a woman stops using it.

Iversen’s study did not conclude the duration of protective benefits of contemporary versions of the birth control pill, as the survey did not observe older women. But Iversen says that the findings should still be of great value to younger women.

“Our deductions of a reduced risk of ovarian cancer linked with contemporary combined oral contraceptives are encouraging for women presently of reproductive age,” she said.

Gynecologic cancer risks

Except for cervical cancer, there is no way to simply and reliably screen for any gynecologic cancer. Many ovarian cancers are not found until they have spread. Its usual symptoms include bloating, back pain, and discharge which can often be mistaken for other things.

“There is no worthy screening test for ovarian cancer, which is the lethal gynecologic cancer. We need to use tools we have to prevent this deadly disease from developing. Oral contraceptive pills are one of these tools which are often overlooked,” Dr. Dineo Khabele, director of the division of gynecologic oncology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, told this.

The bottom line

Newer versions of the birth control pill are better than the older versions of the pill as they provide more protective benefits against ovarian cancer.

The longer the oral contraceptives were used, the reduced risk was strengthened.

The benefit was perceived several years after stopping the pill.



Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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