Can Your Birth Control Prevent Cancer?

by Emma Cueto

One of the common scare tactics when it comes to women's reproductive health is to claim that things that allow you to control your reproductive future also give you cancer. But in fact, the opposite may be true: It turns out that it's possible birth control pills reduce your risk of cancer, even decades after you stop taking it. At least, that's according to new research that looked at data for over 100,000 women. Significant? Yes. Very.

This new study comes from researchers at Oxford University, who examined data from 45 studies including a total of over 100,000 women. The data revealed that the pill appeates to significantly reduce women's risk of both ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer (cancer in the lining of the uterus). The risk for both cancers decreases for each year a woman takes the pill; furthermore, this reduced risk could continue for 30 years or more after a woman stops taking the pill — so that's pretty awesome.

“What it mans is that women in their 50s and 60s who took the pill are less likely to get cancer than women who did not, and the longer they have taken it the less likely they are. That is pretty important," Professor Valerie Beral, the study's lead author, told The Guardian. “It is time to start saying that not only does it prevent pregnancy, which is why people take it, but you should know you are less likely to get cancer than women who don’t take the pill.”

However, she also knows that this won't be news that many people are willing to hear. “People [almost] don’t want to believe it,” she said.

Taking oral contraceptives is not without risks, of course. In addition the to possible side effects like weight gain or blood clots, it has been found that women who take the pill have a slightly elevated risk of certain other cancers, such as cervical cancer and possibly breast cancer. However, these risks are small, and typically don't persist once someone stops taking the pill.

However, despite being relatively small, that hasn't stopped people from blowing the risks out of proportion, or stopped right wing sources from using these risks (as well as disproven myths such as abortion giving you breast cancer or the pill making women infertile) as a scare tactic to frighten women. Not that there aren't also leftist people who like to hate on birth control, calling it "unnatural"; that happens, too. Because apparently we should all harken back to the good old days when nothing was synthetic and women died in childbirth all the time. (Or, no. Let's not do that.)

In truth, while birth control pills do carry risks just like any other medication, they also offer a lot of benefits, even besides the obvious ones of saving you from the risks, expense, and turmoil of an unwanted pregnancy. (But seriously, pregnancy and childbirth still come with a lot of risks, guys.) According the Oxford study, fifteen years of being on the pill can cut your risk of ovarian cancer in half, and researchers estimate that since 1965, oral contraceptives have prevented 400,000 cases of endometrial cancer.

As Professor Beral explains it, "People used to worry that the ipll might cause cancer, but in the long-term, the pill reduces the risk of getting cancer."

So basically, no, your birth control is not trying to kill you. And anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is either lying to you or is severely misinformed. So, three cheers for birth control!

Image: starbooze/Flickr; Giphy