Modern birth control methods hike breast cancer risk just like older ones, study finds
Newer birth control methods that release hormones can raise women's risk for breast cancer — just as the older ones did.
That's the conclusion of a new study recently reported by Ronnie Caryn Rabin in The New York Times.
The findings, based on following nearly 1.8 million Danish women of childbearing age for more than a decade, corroborates conventional wisdom that birth control pills and IUDs can be problematic despite the added risk being small.
The Times piece indicates the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, "upends widely held assumptions about modern contraceptives for younger generations of women," many of whom have believed that the newer contraceptives "are much safer than those taken by their mothers or grandmothers, which had higher doses of estrogen."
According to Rabin's story, "the research also suggests that the hormone progestin — widely used in today's birth control methods — may be raising breast cancer risk."
|Dr. Marisa Weiss|
The findings show "a significant public health concern," she says — even though, according to the Times, the study failed to "take into account factors like physical activity, breast feeding and alcohol consumption, which may also influence breast cancer risk."
Officials at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists plan to evaluate the new findings but, the Times says, still emphasized that hormonal contraceptives are for many women "among the most safe, effective and accessible options available."
Weiss, however, suggested in Rabin's story that, because risk increases with age, "older women may want to consider switching to a hormone-free birth control method, like a diaphragm, an IUD that does not release hormones, or condoms. 'It's not like you don't have a choice,' she said. 'Why not pursue another option?'"
Rabin also quoted Lina Steinrud Mørch, Ph.D., the study's lead author and a senior researcher at the University of Copenhagen, to the effect that the findings — which also showed "the risk increased the longer women used contraceptives, suggesting the relationship is causal" — presented "a very clear picture…very convincing."
According to Mørch, "among those who used hormones for five years, an increased breast cancer risk persisted even after they discontinued use."
And women who stayed on hormones 10 years or more experienced a jump in risk of 38 percent.
Since researchers originally had expected to find "a smaller increase in risk because today we have lower doses of estrogen in the hormone contraceptives," says Mørch, "it was surprising that we found [the] association."
The study concluded that although "hormone users over all experienced a 20 percent increase in the relative risk of breast cancer compared to nonusers…the additional risk would result in comparatively few additional cases of breast cancer."
More information on risk factors for the disease can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.