Cancer is a devastating disease that affects millions of people worldwide. A recent study by the University of Aberdeen has found that taking the contraceptive pill could decrease cancer risk in women.

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By Hayley Fryer

Have you or someone you know ever taken the contraceptive pill? Probably.

The pill was first introduced to the UK in 1961, and nowadays over 3.5 million of us take it every day.

Along with other contraceptive options, the pill has provided sexual liberation for women, as if taken properly, it will protect against unplanned pregnancies. But could it also defend against cancer?

A recent study undertaken by Lisa Iversen and her team at the University of Aberdeen has found that taking the contraceptive pill could lower cancer risk for up to 30 years after it has stopped being taken.


What is the contraceptive pill?

A small pill that contains artificial hormones, which decreases your chance of pregnancy by 99% when taken properly

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The pill, or the combined oral contraceptive pill to use its full name, contains artificial versions of the female hormones progesterone and oestrogen.

These hormones mean that the pill is able to prevent your body from releasing an egg. As a result, fertilisation can’t happen and you won’t become pregnant. Pregnancy prevention is the main reason women choose to go on the pill, but it’s also handy in the treatment of heavy or painful periods, endometriosis, and premenstrual syndrome.

There are 32 different forms of the pill, each of which has slight differences which makes it more, or less, suitable for an individual.

The most common type of pill is called monophasic 21-day pills. Each pill contains the same amount of hormone and it is taken for 21 days before a “bleed break” for 7 days where no pill is taken.

If you sometimes forget to restart your pill after this 7-day hiatus, the everyday pill may be a better alternative. This pack contains 21 normal pills and 7 fake pills. Because there are 28 pills in a pack, no break is needed, and so the chance of you forgetting to start taking your pill again is reduced.


What’s this about cancer?

There were worries that the contraceptive pill could increase your risk of getting certain cancers, but recent research has found that the pill could actually decrease this risk.

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If you’ve ever read the little booklet that comes with your contraceptive pill, you’ll see there’s a long list of possible side-effects.

This can be anything from headaches and putting on weight to more serious issues such as blood clots and liver problems.

One issue that a lot of women are worried about is the possible increased risk of cervical and breast cancer.

Some studies have shown that there is a slight increase in cancer risk for women taking the contraceptive pill up to 10 years after stopping taking it. Oestrogen is known to feed some types of tumours and it has therefore been a concern that taking the contraceptive pill long term could raise cancer risks.

The recent research by Iversen found that taking the contraceptive pill could actually reduce your risk of developing certain cancers, such as bowel or endometrial cancer.


The research

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The team at the University of Aberdeen looked at the results of the UK Royal College of General Practitioners Oral Contraception Study which began in 1968. 46,022 women took part in this study which lasted for 44 years.

Their research shows that although the risk of breast cancer increases by 4% for women who are on the pill, this risk is gone 5 years after contraception is stopped.

They went on to find that taking the pill for any length of time could lower your risk of getting ovarian cancer by 33%, endometrial cancer by 34%, and bowel cancer by 19%!

Overall this study demonstrates that women are not exposing themselves to cancer-risk by being on the pill, and are, in fact, likely to be protected against some cancers long term.


The Future

Talk to your doctor about your options

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So, if it’s so good for us, should we all go on the pill?

Although this study does suggest that taking the contraceptive pill reduces cancer risk, there are still other side-effects that could cause you ill health.

If you don’t get on well with the pill, there are other contraceptive options such as the implant or coil which could work better for you. Although these do not have proven effects against cancer, they will protect you from getting pregnant.

Going on any type of contraception needs to be thoroughly discussed with your doctor, to decide which type is right for you.


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