Don′t be afraid of the pill | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 24.03.2017
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Don't be afraid of the pill

Birth control pills are not causing medical harm in the long run, a new study shows. They can even prevent some forms of cancer in older women, even though short term cancer risks slightly increase.

Researchers of the University of Aberdeen have shown that taking birth control pills does not increase women's long-term risk to get cancer. On the contrary: There are some forms of cancer that are less likely to occur as late as 30 years after taking the pill. Those include tumors of the ovaries, colon or uterine lining.

While women are still on the pill, however, the probability of getting breast or cervical cancer slightly increases. Five years after stopping the use of the pill, the cancer risk returns to normal levels. The overall balance is therefore neutral.

More than 40,000 women - more than 40 years of research

The researchers around epidemiologist Lisa Iversen analyzed the data of around 46,000 British women over a period of 44 years. The participants included women who took the pill as well as those who did not.

The first women joined the long term study in 1968. Their gynecologists reported in regular intervals about the health status of their patients to the research institute. The researchers also included cancer data from a national central register. Some of the women participated in the study up to the year 2012.

A couple looking at a package of birth control pills (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Lange)

No increased cancer risks

Reconfirming previous studies

Previous studies produced similar results, like a 2012 study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a body of the World Health Organization. The scientists concluded that a combination of estrogens and progestogens - the hormones most commonly used in birth control pills - can help prevent certain cancers, while the risk for other cancers slight increases during usage.

Jenny Chang-Claude from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) says the most recent study has revealed one important new result: "Women who have taken the pill do not need to be afraid that they have an elevated cancer risk later in life."

La/fs (dpa)

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