Oral Contraceptives Tied to Lower Risk for Certain Cancers

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Women who have used oral contraceptives may be at lower risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer.

Oral contraceptives are known to be associated with a higher risk for breast cancer, but a new study in Cancer Research suggests the increased risk is small and of short duration. At the same time, researchers found that the lowered risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer is substantial and long-lasting.

The analysis included health data through 2019 on 256,661 women born between 1939 and 1970 in Britain. More than 80 percent of the women had used oral contraceptives.

After adjustment for many other health and behavioral characteristics, the scientists found that compared with women who had not used them, women who had used oral contraceptives had a 32 percent reduced risk for endometrial cancer and a 28 percent reduced risk for ovarian cancer. Those reduced risks persisted for life.

“Ovarian cancer is deadly and hard to treat,” said the senior author, Asa Johansson, an assistant professor at Uppsala University in Sweden. “The mortality rate for breast cancer is lower. If you have a close relative who died from ovarian cancer, you might make one decision about oral contraceptives. If you have one who died from breast cancer, you might make another.”

In any case, she said, “I don’t think we can offer advice. People should be informed about the risks and benefits and make their own decisions.”

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