‘Sounds alarming’: Dr. Zoe talks about hormonal contraception and cancer link – new study

While a link between breast cancer and the use of combined oral contraceptives has been established, a new study highlights the risks of progestogen-only contraceptives. Published March 21, 2023 in PLOS Medicine, the study provided “important new evidence” that current or recent use of progestogen-only birth control is associated with a small increase in breast cancer risk. Examples of progestogen-only birth control include mini pills, implants, and injections.

It is noted that this connection is “similar in magnitude to that associated with combined hormonal contraceptives.”

Examples of combined hormonal contraceptives include the birth control pill, the patch, and the vaginal birth control ring.

Combined hormonal contraceptives contain the hormones estrogen and progestogens – synthetic forms of progesterone.

Speaking on ITV this morning on Thursday, March 23, Dr. Zoe spoke about the results of the study.

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“Sounds alarming,” Dr. Zoe began, but assured her the risk was minimal.

Pointing to “what we already know,” Dr. Zoe said that combined contraceptives increase the risk of breast cancer by 20 percent.

Now studies have shown that progestogen-only birth control pills increase the risk by 20 to 30 percent.

Out of 100,000 young women (ages 16 to 20) over a 15-year period, 40 will “still get cancer” without using contraceptives.

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If women took birth control, “an extra eight” of them would develop breast cancer.

Dr. Zoe emphasized that this is a “tiny, tiny, tiny risk,” adding that the risk is slightly higher for women aged 35 to 39.

“The background risk of getting breast cancer in 100,000 women over the age of 15 is much higher. That’s 1,325 cases,” Dr. Zoe said.

“If those 100,000 women then take hormonal contraception, then an additional 20 percent — an additional 265 out of 100,000 — [would get breast cancer].”

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Dr. Zoe says it’s “still a small number, a small risk” of developing breast cancer in women.

Plus, she says it’s all about weighing the risk along with the benefits, like preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Hormonal contraceptives may also “protect against ovarian and endometrial cancer,” so overall, “there is no increase in cancer.”

Dr. Zoe explained that by lowering the risk of certain types of cancer, she then balances the minimal risk of breast cancer.

Dr. Zoe noted that there are other lifestyle factors that contribute to the development of breast cancer.

Examples included older age, genetics, alcohol use, smoking, excessive body mass index (BMI), and physical inactivity.

Access to all this information allows women to make “informed choices,” Dr. Zoe said.

For women concerned about their current birth control, Dr. Zoe said there is “no reason to change” what you’re taking because of this study.

If, however, you’d like to discuss your contraceptive methods with your doctor, then of course “make an appointment with your GP… discuss it.”

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