Oral Contraceptives After Pregnancy May Lower Your Risk for Female Cancers

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One thing you need to think about after pregnancy is birth control. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends starting birth control as soon as you become sexually active again. It is possible to become pregnant within a few weeks after your pregnancy, called the postpartum period. For your own health, ACOG strongly recommends avoiding another pregnancy for at least six months.

Oral contraception – the pill – has been available since the 1960’s, and most women have used it. You should have a discussion with your doctor now about birth control options after pregnancy. There are lots of options, and all have some risks and benefits. Some women may avoid oral contraceptives because of a small risk of blood clots and a possible increased risk of breast cancer.

A new study from Uppsala University in Sweden has discovered something important they want women and their doctors to know when weighing the risks and benefits for oral contraception. Oral contraceptives may significantly reduce your risk for two common female cancers, uterine cancer and ovarian cancer. Their study is published in the journal Cancer Research. Not only is this benefit significant, it is long lasting.

 The study included over 250,000  women born between 1939 and 1970. Even 30 to 35 years after stopping oral contraception, there was a reduced risk of endometrial and uterine cancer.  These were the key findings for all women in the study who ever used oral contraceptives compared to all women who never used oral contraception:

  • Ovarian cancer risk was reduced by 28 percent.
  • Endometrial cancer risk was reduced by 32 percent.

Oral contraceptive use increased the risk of breast cancer by 10 percent, but the increased risk disappeared within 2 years of stopping. On the other hand, the reduced risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer remained significant for up to 35 years. Risk reduction increased with the amount of time the women were on oral contraceptives. Women who were on birth control pills for over 20 years had a 64 percent reduced risk of endometrial cancer.

Uterine, or endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female genital organs. The rate of uterine cancer has been rising, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). About three percent of women will be diagnosed with this cancer. The survival rate is high because uterine cancer causes symptoms, like vaginal bleeding, when the cancer is treatable. Ovarian cancer is less common but much more dangerous, because it only causes symptoms at a late stage. Less than two percent of women will get this cancer, but the 5-year survival rate is less than 50 percent.

The researchers feel that the significant and long-lasting protection from ovarian and endometrial cancers should be considered when women and their doctors make decisions regarding contraception options.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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