Are You at Risk of Breast Cancer from Your Birth Control? 😱
If you’re using hormonal contraceptives, you might be wondering how they affect your risk of developing breast cancer. After all, breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women, and it can have devastating consequences for your health and well-being. 😔
But before you panic and throw away your pills or patches, you should know that the risk is not as high as you might think. In fact, it’s very similar to the risk from combined hormonal contraceptives that contain both estrogen and progestin. 🙌
In this article, we’ll explain what a new study has found about the association between progestin-only and combined hormonal contraceptives and breast cancer risk. We’ll also give you some tips on how to reduce your risk and what to do if you have any concerns. 🙋♀️
What did the study find? 🧐
The study was published in March 2023 in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine by researchers from the University of Oxford in the U.K. They analyzed data from a large primary care database on 9,498 women under 50 who were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer between 1996 and 2017. They also compared them with 18,171 matched controls who did not have breast cancer.
They found that 44% of women with breast cancer and 39% of controls had a prescription for hormonal contraceptives at some point in their lives. About half of these prescriptions were for progestin-only preparations, such as oral pills, injectables, or intrauterine devices (IUDs). The other half were for combined preparations that contain both estrogen and progestin.
The researchers calculated that there was a relative increase of 20% to 30% in breast cancer risk associated with both types of hormonal contraceptives, regardless of the mode of delivery. This means that women who used hormonal contraceptives had a slightly higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who did not use them.
However, this does not mean that hormonal contraceptives cause breast cancer or that every woman who uses them will get it. The absolute risk was still very low for most women. For example, with five years of use at age 16–20 years, the estimated excess risk was only eight cases per 100,000 users over 15 years. For women who used them at age 35–39 years, the excess risk was higher at 265 cases per 100,000 users over 15 years.
The study also found that the risk decreased over time after stopping use of hormonal contraceptives. After five years since last use, there was no significant difference in breast cancer risk between former users and never users.
How does this compare with previous studies? 🤔
This study is not the first one to look at the link between hormonal contraceptives and breast cancer risk. Previous studies have shown that combined oral contraceptives (COCs) have a small but significant effect on increasing breast cancer risk while they are being used and for a few years after stopping use.
However, there was less evidence about the effect of progestin-only contraceptives (POCs), which are becoming more popular among women who want to avoid estrogen or have medical reasons for doing so. Some studies suggested that POCs might have a lower or no impact on breast cancer risk compared with COCs.
This new study challenges this assumption by showing that POCs have a similar association with breast cancer risk as COCs do. It also shows that this association is consistent across different modes of delivery (oral vs injectable vs IUD) and different types of progestins used.
What are some possible explanations for this association? 🤓
The exact mechanism by which hormonal contraceptives influence breast cancer risk is not fully understood yet. However, some possible explanations include:
- Hormonal contraceptives may stimulate cell growth in certain types of breast tissue that are more prone to becoming malignant.
- Hormonal contraceptives may interfere with natural hormones that protect against breast cancer development or progression.
- Hormonal contraceptives may affect other factors related to breast cancer risk such as inflammation immune function DNA repair oxidative stress.
What are some benefits of hormonal contraceptives? 😍
Besides preventing unwanted pregnancies, hormonal contraceptives can also have some positive effects on your health and well-being. Some of these benefits include:
- Reducing menstrual pain and cramps
- Making your periods more regular, lighter, and shorter
- Lowering your risk of anemia (low iron levels) due to heavy bleeding
- Improving your mood and reducing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
- Helping with endometriosis, a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus and causes pain and bleeding
- Shrinking uterine fibroids, noncancerous growths in the uterus that can cause heavy bleeding and pelvic pain
- Clearing up acne and reducing unwanted hair growth by lowering levels of male hormones
- Easing menopause-related hot flashes by providing a low dose of estrogen
- Decreasing your risk of ovarian, uterine, and colon cancer by suppressing ovulation and altering hormone levels
Of course, not all hormonal contraceptives have the same benefits for everyone. Some may work better for you than others depending on your personal preferences, medical history, lifestyle factors, and other medications you take. You should always consult with your doctor before starting or switching any birth control method.
What are some side effects of hormonal contraceptives? 😒
Hormonal contraceptives are generally safe and effective for most women. However, they can also cause some side effects that may be bothersome or even harmful for some people. Some common side effects include:
- Nausea Headaches Breast tenderness Weight gain Bloating Mood changes Decreased libido Spotting or irregular bleeding Missed periods Vaginal discharge or infection Skin reactions to patches or implants Changes in blood pressure or cholesterol levels
Most of these side effects are mild and tend to go away after a few months of use as your body adjusts to the hormones. However, some side effects may persist or worsen over time. If you experience any severe or unusual symptoms such as chest pain shortness of breath severe headache vision problems leg pain jaundice depression allergic reaction you should stop using hormonal contraceptives immediately and seek medical attention.
What are some risks of hormonal contraceptives? 😨
Hormonal contraceptives can also increase your risk of certain serious health problems such as:
- Blood clots stroke heart attack especially if you smoke are over 35 years old have high blood pressure diabetes obesity migraine headaches or a family history of cardiovascular disease
- Liver tumors benign or malignant which can cause abdominal pain jaundice nausea vomiting loss of appetite
- Gallbladder disease which can cause abdominal pain nausea vomiting fever chills jaundice
- Cervical cancer which can cause abnormal vaginal bleeding discharge odor pain during sex pelvic pain
The risk of these complications is very low for most women who use hormonal contraceptives but it may be higher for some women who have certain risk factors such as smoking age genetics medical conditions infections etc.
You should talk to your doctor about your personal risk factors before starting any hormonal contraceptive method. You should also have regular check-ups breast exams Pap tests blood tests etc. while using hormonal contraceptives to monitor your health status.
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Conclusion: Is hormonal birth control right for you?
Hormonal birth control methods can offer many benefits for women who want to prevent pregnancy and improve their health and well-being. However, they can also have some side effects and risks that may vary depending on your personal situation.
Before choosing a hormonal contraceptive method, you should talk to your doctor about your reproductive goals, health status, lifestyle factors, and preferences. You should also weigh the pros and cons of each option and consider how it will affect your body and mind.
Remember that hormonal contraceptives are not 100% effective at preventing pregnancy and do not protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You should always use condoms or other barrier methods along with hormonal contraceptives to reduce your risk of STIs.
If you have any questions or concerns about hormonal contraceptives, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information. They can help you find the best option for you and provide support if you experience any problems.
Hormonal birth control is a personal choice that only you can make. Whatever method you choose, make sure it suits your needs and makes you feel comfortable and confident.
- Birth control pill FAQ: Benefits, risks and choices – Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/birth-control/in-depth/birth-control-pill/art-20045136)
- Benefits and Side Effects of Hormonal Birth Control – Verywell Mind (https://www.verywellmind.com/benefits-and-side-effects-of-hormonal-birth-control-5270404)
- Hormonal Contraception | Benefits | Side Effects | Risk Factors | Types (https://www.icliniq.com/articles/womens-health/hormonal-contraception)
- Birth control options: Things to consider – Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/birth-control/in-depth/birth-control-options/art-20045571)
- Progestogen-only contraceptive use in relation to breast cancer risk in women under 50 years old: A prospective cohort study with a nested case–control analysis – PLOS Medicine (https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003754)
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