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Contraception health centre

The Pill and breast cancer risk

The Pill is one of the most common methods of contraception for women, but it has been linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

However, the Pill has changed a lot since contraceptive pills were introduced in the 1960s, in composition and a lower hormone dose.

One 2014 study published in the journal Cancer Research found that taking certain types of oral contraceptives in the past year could increase the chance of developing breast cancer by 50% among women aged 20 to 49.

However, experts say the findings should be interpreted cautiously as breast cancer is rare among younger women and the formulation of oral contraceptives has evolved in recent years.

For most women, especially young women, experts say the benefits of oral contraceptives far outweigh the risks. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about the Pill and breast cancer.

Does taking birth control pills increase my risk of developing breast cancer?

Cancer Research UK says combined knowledge from studies carried out around the world into oral contraceptives show that women using the pill have a slight but significant increase in breast cancer risk.

Breast Cancer Care says it is important to note that breast cancer is rare in women under the age of 40, regardless of whether or not they use the contraceptive pill. In addition, 10 years after coming off the pill any increased risk will have disappeared leaving the chance of developing breast cancer at around the same level as those who’ve never taken the pill.

My family has a history of breast cancer. Should I take oral contraceptives?

Women with a family history of breast cancer may feel that this increased risk, no matter how small it is, is not worth taking.

Doctors don't believe that using the Pill changes the level of the risk for women with close relatives who've had breast cancer. However, Cancer Research UK says there is not enough evidence to say for sure how pill use might affect breast cancer risk in these cases.

Women with their own history of breast problems, even benign lumps, may also want to be cautious when discussing contraceptive options with their doctor or family planning clinic.

Oestrogen in the combined pill is the ingredient thought to be responsible for the increased risk. Most women in the UK are usually offered the low oestrogen version of the combined pill.

Does the risk of breast cancer associated with oral contraceptives vary by age?

In common with many other cancers, the risk of developing breast cancer increases as a woman gets older.

Breast cancer is rare in younger women and the age groups most often using the pill are women in their late teens, 20s and early 30s.

One study of more than 100,000 women suggested that the increased breast cancer risk associated with contraceptive pills is highest among women over age 45. The study found that the risk of breast cancer was greatest among women aged 45 and over who were still using the Pill. This group of women was nearly one-and-a-half times as likely to get breast cancer as women who had never used the Pill.

The charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer reminds women that taking the pill is a personal choice and to make sure they talk to their GP about questions and concerns.

WebMD Medical Reference

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