Early detection of ovarian cancer remains elusive but, in the meantime, women can significantly reduce their risk of this feared malignancy by using birth control pills and having babies.
Women who take the pill for 10 years nearly halve their risk of developing ovarian cancer, according to a large study that followed about 300,000 European women for an average of nine years.
The study, published this week in the British Journal of Cancer, confirmed findings of previous studies, including a large review in 2008, which reported that so-called “ever use” of the pill is protective. Authors of the latest study said ever-users of oral contraceptives had a 15 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer than never-users, but women who took the pill for a decade or more slashed their risk 45 percent.
Put another way, the researchers found about 15 ovarian cancer cases for every 100,000 women who took the pill for at least a decade, compared with about 28 ovarian cancer cases for every 100,000 women on the pill a year or less.
Women need to individualize their decisions based upon their family history and other risk factors. The pill’s protective effect on the ovaries could be particularly important to women with ovarian cancer in their family, but they might want to weigh the protection against increased breast cancer risk associated with hormonal contraceptives. But the breast cancer risk “disappears after use has stopped,” according to a statement from Cancer Research UK, which co-sponsored the new study.
“The data on breast cancer and oral contraceptives is still conflicting,” Dr. James Speyer, medical director of the NYU Langone Clinical Cancer Center, said Wednesday. “For most women, it does not pose significant risk. For those with strong family histories, they may wish to consider possible increased risk.”