New study finds link between hormonal contraception and breast cancer

08 Décembre, 2017, 00:43 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • Katherine Streeter for NPR

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. "Indeed, some calculations have suggested that the net effect of the use of oral contraceptives for 5 years or longer is a slight reduction in the total risk of cancer", Hunter said. That's a lot of cancers, given that 140 million use hormonal contraception worldwide - or about 13 percent of women ages 15 to 49.

"This is an important study because we had no idea how the modern day pills compared to the old-fashioned pills in terms of breast cancer risk, and we didn't know anything about I.U.D.'s", said Dr. Marisa Weiss, an oncologist who founded the website breastcancer.org and was not involved in the study.

NEIGHMOND: Now, it's important to note in the study, women over 40 were more likely to suffer breast cancer than younger women in their 20s and 30s.

According to the same study, the duration of time a woman takes birth control, the chance of breast cancer increases by 38%.

"And there is also the reassuring thought that oral contraceptive use may decrease the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer".

Overall, the use of any hormone-based contraceptive for five years or more raised a woman's risk of breast cancer by 20 percent, Lina Morch of the University of Copenhagen and colleagues reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"There were hopes that the new formulations would not increase a user's risk of breast cancer as the older formulations did", said Mia Gaudet, strategic director of breast and gynecologic cancer research at the American Cancer Society, who was not involved in the research.

The search for new hormonal contraceptives - methods that don't elevate breast cancer risk at all - should continue, Hunter says. Previous studies had linked older hormonal birth control regimens with an increased breast cancer risk.

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Researchers said they accounted for education, childbirth and a family history of breast cancer during the study but they were not able to adjust for several other known cancer risk factors such as alcohol use and limited physical activity, or protective factors such as breast-feeding.

Two types of birth control pills are sold in the US - one that combines synthetic versions of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, and the "minipill" that only delivers progestin, a synthetic formulation of progesterone.

Although getting cancer is uncontrollable, there are ways to try to prevent breast cancer.

For some perspective, about 252,710 American women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, according to estimates from the National Institutes of Health; 12.4 percent of women will hear the diagnosis at some point in their lives.

Most breast cancers are fueled by estrogen.

Of course, finding a safe and effective form of birth control is more than just a personal concern.

"The benefits (against these other cancers) persists for one to two decades", he said, while breast cancer risk declines more rapidly.

"Unfortunately this was not the case and additional research is needed to tweak the formulation. But we should make an individual assessment-doctor and a woman, together-to see what is the most appropriate thing for her to use". And if it's not needed to take hormonal contraceptions, it might be worth considering using other methods like the copper IUD or barium if it's - like condoms, for instance. There's a strong suggestion they actually reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

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