The latest link between hormonal contraceptives and breast cancer

Henrietta Brewer
December 7, 2017

But according to a new study, even the contraceptives with lower dosages of estrogen still come with a slightly increased chance of breast cancer.

The study, which followed 1.8 million Danish women for more than a decade, upends widely held assumptions about modern contraceptives for younger generations of women. Newer birth control drugs developed to replace those tied to cancer risk were thought to improve safety for the women who took them. However, in practice the picture is far more complex.

While contraceptive drugs that contain oestrogen have always been suspected of increasing the likelihood of breast cancer, researchers had expected smaller doses of the hormone, often combined with the drug progestin, would be safer, said Lina Morch, an epidemiologist at Copenhagen University Hospital who led a study analysing the records of 1.8 million women in Denmark. However, that number varied depending on how long women had used their particular method.

The bottom line is that before starting or continuing to take hormonal contraceptives - or any medications - it's important to speak with your doctor about any potential risks and benefits, and make an informed decision from there.


Third-generation contraceptive pills are displayed on January 2, 2013, in Lille, in northern France.

Whether it's the pill, the patch, or a range of other products, millions of women today use hormonal contraceptives; so it's little surprise that a new study shows that those who take them have an increased risk of breast cancer.

The idea that there is a link between hormonal contraceptive use and breast cancer is not new.

However, he noted, pretty much everything in life carries risks and women know that. "We see from this data that is not the case".


Of course, finding a safe and effective form of birth control is more than just a personal concern. Out of those women, for every 100,000 participants, the use of hormonal birth control caused an additional 13 cases of breast cancer each year. "As with any medical intervention, hormonal contraception is associated with specific health risks".

While a link had been established between birth control pills and breast cancer years ago, this study is the first to examine the risks associated with current formulations of birth control pills and devices in a large population.

First, the study didn't factor in other variables like diet, physical activity, breastfeeding or alcohol consumption, which could also have an impact on developing breast cancer.

One thing reiterated by every doctor Newsweek spoke to: Women who are anxious about how their contraception might increase their risk of breast cancer should speak with their health care provider.


"Nothing is risk-free, and hormonal contraceptives are not an exception to that rule", said Dr. Øjvind Lidegaard, the paper's senior author.

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