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Do Oral Contraceptives Disrupt Your Hormonal Balance And Lead To Cancer?

Do Oral Contraceptives Disrupt Your Hormonal Balance And Lead To Cancer?

Oral contraceptive pills have been an effective form of birth control since the 1960s in the US. In order to prevent pregnancy, most oral contraceptive pills contain synthetic versions of the female hormones estrogen, progesterone, and, progestin. Progesterone and estrogen have been associated with some types of cancers [1].

The association between these hormones and cancer can be confusing and intimidating, especially if you are taking or planning to take oral contraceptive pills. Trying to find information about the link can be just as confusing. While some experts say that the benefits of the pill are greater than the risks, others claim just the opposite. So, which is the truth?

Does taking an oral contraceptive increase your risk for cancer? The answer is: maybe. Although the research is not conclusive, most studies have found that oral contraceptive use has two benefits [2]. It reduces the risk for endometrial and ovarian cancer. And it increases the risk for breast, liver, and cervical cancer.

Breast cancer and oral contraceptive use

A study published in 1996 took a look at 53 epidemiological studies in order to understand the risks of developing breast cancer [3]. The results suggested that women taking an oral contraceptive had a small increase in risk. This continued to be true for the first 10 years after a woman decided to stop taking the pill. The second conclusion was that the risk diminished 10 years after stopping use.

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Another study found that only high-dose estrogen pills were associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer [4]. Most women today take an oral contraceptive with a low dose of estrogen. Other factors associated with breast cancer include: family history of the disease, previous biopsies with abnormal cells, young age at first menstruation, older age with first pregnancy, and having no children [5].

Liver cancer and oral contraceptive use

Oral contraceptive use has been linked to an increased risk for hepatocellular adenomas, a large, but non-cancerous, tumor [6]. It is, however, highly likely to rupture and has a 20% to 40% chance of bleeding. When women have these tumors, the risk of them becoming cancerous is only 4% [7].

The research results on oral contraceptive use and cancerous liver tumors is unclear. Some studies indicate that there is a link between the two, while others suggest there is not.

Cervical cancer and oral contraceptive use

Using birth control pills for longer than five years could cause an increased risk for cervical cancer [8]. That risk increases with long-term use and is believed to be three times higher than in women who have never taken the pill. The risk does, however, decrease once the woman no longer takes the oral contraceptive.

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An oral contraceptive does not work alone to cause cervical cancer. The vast majority of cervical cancers are caused by the presence of the human papilloma virus (HPV). Some researchers believe the hormones in the pill may change cells located in the cervix, making them more likely to be infected by HPV [9]. The birth control pill might also assist an HPV infection to develop cancer.

Endometrial and ovarian cancer

Hormonal birth control has been linked to decreased risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers [10]. Several studies of women around the world have found that for every five years a woman takes an oral contraceptive, her risk of developing endometrial cancer is reduced by 24%. This protection continued for approximately 30 years and was not diminished after stopping oral contraceptive use.

Additionally, taking an oral contraceptive results in anovulation [11], which is when ovulation does not happen. This has also been linked to reduced risk of ovarian cancer. Many medical professionals consider this to be one of the biggest unexpected benefits of oral contraceptives.

Now what?

Now that you know the potential link between using an oral contraceptive and developing cancer, it’s a good idea to consider all of your family planning options. Discuss with your doctor any concerns you may have. It’s important for you to determine if the benefits of hormonal birth control pills outweigh the risks.

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If you decide that you’re uncomfortable with the idea of taking an oral contraceptive, there are other contraceptive methods available. Other forms of birth control include:

Male Condom

This is a low cost, widely available alternative to hormonal birth control pills. It is 82% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Contraceptive Sponge

The sponge costs between $4 and $6 and is available in most pharmacies. It contains spermicide and is between 76% and 88% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD)

A doctor places the IUD inside your uterus. It remains in place for several years and prevents fertilized eggs from implanting in your uterus. It can be expensive depending on your insurance coverage and is 99% effective.

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There are many other options available. Talk to your doctor to figure out which one is best for you.

Featured photo credit: GabiSanda via pixabay.com

Reference

More by this author

Amber Pariona

EFL Teacher, Lifehack Writer, English/Spanish Translator, MPA

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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