Modern birth control pills that contain less estrogen have fewer side effects than the traditional birth control methods. However, a large study from Denmark suggests that these new contraceptives can slightly raise the risk of breast cancer, especially for long-term users.
Researchers say that there is a similar breast cancer risk for using the progestin-only intrauterine device, and that it is not possible to rule out the same risk for other birth control methods like the patch and the implant, USA Today reports.
On the bright side, the overall increase in risk was small, just one additional case of breast cancer among 7,700 women who use these devices every year. Health experts who reviewed the study said that women should take this news and weigh it against the health benefits of the contraceptives, which include a lowered risk of cancers.
Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said,
Hormonal contraception should still be perceived as a safe and effective option for family planning.
Manson was not involved in the study.
Women past 40 may want to look into using other non-hormonal IUDs, getting ligated or talking to their partners about getting a vasectomy, according to Manson.
Previous studies on older birth control pills have revealed a “net cancer benefit” due to the lowered risk of cancer of the colon, uterus and ovaries despite a raised breast cancer risk, related Gaudet, a breast cancer epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society.
There were hopes that newer, low-dose birth control pills would be able to lower breast cancer risks, but these have been dashed, Gaudet said, who was also not involved in the study. Around 140 million women now use hormonal contraception, which includes some 16 million in the United States.
Lina Morch of Copenhagen University Hospital, lead author on the study, said, “No type of hormone contraceptive is risk-free unfortunately.”
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.