One of the biggest health threats to women, breast cancer, is being linked to what is called the major medical milestone for women. Birth control pills. Before you cancel the prescription, there are some caveats with the study. Seems like there is a study everyday now that says what was once good for you is now a risk factor.
The study, published in Cancer Research, looked at varying formulations of the pill. Overall, the study found that taking birth control pills increased a woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer by fifty percent. The caveat comes when comparing estrogen levels in the pill. Pills that have a marked elevation of estrogen nearly tripled the risk of the woman developing breast cancer.
Those on pills with even a moderate level of estrogen had their risk factor jump 50 percent. Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle followed 1,102 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead of the normal self-reporting of what contraceptives they were on, researchers dove into the pharmacy records of participants.
Oral contraceptives were then divided into three categories. Pills with a low-level of synthetic estrogen, approximately 20 micrograms; pills with a moderate dose, between 30 to 35 micrograms; and the high dose pills, with 50 micrograms.
The high-dose estrogen pills put women at 2.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Women on moderate doses were 1.6 times more likely, and the low dose saw no significant risk factor.
If this sounds beyond frightening, there are plenty of caveats to the study. Number one being that high-dose pills are very uncommon. Women that are on the high-dose pills normally have a medical issue necessitating the use. In the study, only half of one percent of women were on the high-dose in the last phase of the study.
The pills are actually cancer fighters. Sounds nuts considering what the study laid out, but the pill has been shown to protect slightly against ovarian and endometrial cancer.
Breast cancer is still rare. At age 40, your risk is about 1.5 percent. It jumps to 2.38 percent by age 50. While adding in these pills increases your risk factor, it still is very rare. In fact, if you have a family history of ovarian cancer, you may still want to consider the high-dose pill.
The overarching caveat is that all medicines carry risk. Just turn on a cable news channel. The anti-arthritis drugs have enough side effects to make you want to deal with the pain. This may help with this, but you could go blind. Umm, what?
In the end, it is all about the patient. If you are at a higher risk, you may want to explore options.
If you want to read the full story, jump over to Cancer Research.