If you're anything like me, you could not be happier for the many obvious benefits that come with taking birth control regularly. I know that every time I think about going off the Pill, I remember how heavy and painful my periods were before I went on it, (my menstrual cramps were severe enough to induce vomiting and my fatigue was next level). Not to mention, on the Pill, I can have sex for fun with a considerably lower risk of becoming a mom before I'm ready. But what I didn't know until recently is that the greatest benefit of taking birth control may be this: it actually reduces your risk of developing endometrial cancer.
According to a new 2015 study coming out of the UK, oral contraceptives have prevented 400,000 cases of endometrial cancers in the past 50 years, and 200,000 just from 2005-2014. Additionally, an earlier study from 2010 showed that taking birth control also cuts the risk of developing ovarian cancer in half.
Obviously, if you're having problems with your birth control pills, don't take this as a sign not to talk to your doctor about switching to a different method of contraception. But if you're on birth control pills, and you intend to stay on them, it's important to understand the most serious way they're keeping you healthy. Here's what you need to know about how birth control lowers your risk for endometrial cancer.
What Exactly Is Endometrial Cancer?
Endometrial cancer (also referred to as uterine cancer) begins in the uterus, or more specifically, in the lining of the uterus. What usually causes a woman to develop endometrial cancer is when her body has too much of the estrogen hormone compared to the progesterone hormone. If this hormone imbalance persists over time, the chances of her developing endometrial cancer after the age of 50 are much higher.
The good news is, endometrial cancer is very treatable when detected early, and it usually is detected early because one of the first signs of endometrial cancer is irregular vaginal bleeding. However, removal of the uterus is often a necessary part of curing endometrial cancer, and if the cancer isn't found quickly, it can spread to areas outside of the uterus as well.
How Does The Pill Reduce My Risk Of Endometrial Cancer?
Scientists aren't 100 percent sure how birth control pills lower the risk of endometrial cancer, but they think it may be linked to how many times a woman ovulates in her life (something that doesn't happen on the pill), and they know that for every five years a woman is on birth control her chances of developing the cancer decreases by 25 percent. Even better, this benefit lasts up to 30 years after a woman stops taking her birth control.
This is particularly important because most women take birth control in their twenties and thirties, and most cases of endometrial cancer aren't diagnosed until after the age of 50. So even if you were to stop taking your birth control in your late twenties or early thirties, the cancer-preventing benefits of the stuff would still be at work when you're in your fifties and sixties, which is the likeliest age for an endometrial cancer diagnoses.
Do All Birth Control Pills Reduce The Risk Of Endometrial Cancer?
So it would seem. Additional findings of this study show that women who took the pill in the 1980s experienced the same reduction of endometrial cancer as women who used the pill in the 1960s — when estrogen doses were more than double what they were in the '80s. According to the study's authors, "These results show that the amount of estrogen in the lower-dose pills is still sufficient to reduce the incidence of endometrial cancer." Which makes sense, since the amount of estrogen in so-called "low-dose" pills is still four times as high as what a woman's body would naturally produce. (Which, some scientists believe, is the reason the Pill might unfortunately also contribute to women developing other types of cancer.)
The bottom line? While no one should take the Pill only for preventing cancer, if you're taking a birth control pill which contains the lowest effective does of estrogen possible, you're still going to be significantly more protected from endometrial cancer than you would be if you weren't taking any oral contraceptives at all. And that's certainly worth celebrating.