Hormonal Birth Control May Increase Your Risk Of Breast Cancer, But Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Freak Out

Ad failed to load

On Dec. 6, a new study was released that said women who used hormonal birth control, such as the pill or an IUD, may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Although the increased risk is small, researchers noted, it was still statistically significant. Don't freak out just yet, though; doctors say this doesn't mean you should stop using your method of birth control.

The study, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, followed 1.8 million Danish women for more than a decade, and found that for every 100,000 women using hormonal birth control in the form of the pill or an IUD, there were 68 cases of breast cancer annually. There were 55 cases of breast cancer a year among women who didn’t use birth control. The rates of breast cancer were the same despite the type of contraception a woman used, though researchers noted it did vary by age and formulation.

However, there are other things to take into consideration when considering your birth control options, experts say. "When taking care of patients, it is important to take thorough history and weigh the risks and protective factors for every woman and ultimately let them decide what is the best method of birth control for them at that time," Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, pediatrics researcher at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells Bustle. "This study showed an association between using hormonal birth control and breast cancer — but there are a lot of factors to consider when you are talking about breast cancer risks that are not a part of this study. Furthermore, the repercussions of an unplanned pregnancy are also really important to remember as well as the cancer protection you do get from hormonal birth control (such as decreased rates of uterine and ovarian cancer)."

Ad failed to load

The study also found a correlation between breast cancer risk and the amount of time a woman uses birth control. Women who used hormonal birth control for less than one year did not have an increased risk of breast cancer; while women who used birth control for more than 10 years had a 38 percent increase in their relative risk of developing breast cancer. This was consistent with a 1996 meta-analysis of over 50 studies about the link between breast cancer and birth control. However, Cancer.gov notes that the 1996 study found that "breast cancers diagnosed in women who had stopped using oral contraceptives for 10 or more years were less advanced than breast cancers diagnosed in women who had never used oral contraceptives."

“We did actually expect we would find a smaller increase in risk because today we have lower doses of estrogen in the hormone contraceptives, so it was surprising that we found this association,” Lina S. Mørch, a senior researcher at the University of Copenhagen and the paper’s lead author, was quoted in The New York Times. The authors suggested that the hormone progestin may also be responsible for the increase in risk.

Ad failed to load

Although the study does have public health implications, there were limitations to it, and more studies need to be conducted in order to more thoroughly understand the link between breast cancer and birth control. Study authors acknowledged in the report that “they could not take into account factors like physical activity, breastfeeding, and alcohol consumption, which may also influence breast cancer risk.”

It's also worth noting that despite the possibility of a small but statistically significant increase in risk of breast cancer, many people take birth control to mitigate other health concerns. Hormonal birth control is known to actually reduce the risk of some other cancers, including ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancer. It can also help control endometriosis, in addition to PMS and PMDD symptoms, including period pain. On top of all that, hormonal birth control is still one of the safest and most effective methods of preventing unintended pregnancy.

Ad failed to load

While there are other contraception options beside the pill and an IUD, and some varieties of IUDs that are hormone-free, the study didn’t find that any modern medical birth control methods were 100 percent risk-free. That’s why it’s important to have an ongoing conversation with your doctor about birth control, and go to your OB-GYN for your annual check up — even if you've been using your same method of birth control for years.

"Overall, hormonal birth control is incredibly safe. What is important that in any decision around birth control, [patients] are counseled on all forms and given the risks and benefits of each before they decide which birth control to use. Furthermore, making sure that all women have access to all forms of birth control, regardless of cost, is something that we as physicians and policy makers need to assure is possible for every person — regardless of their age, race or income," says Dr. Wilkinson.

While the results of this study might seem alarming at first to the millions of women who are currently taking or have taken birth control in the past, making hasty medical decisions is not advised. Talking to a medical professional and evaluating your health needs with your doctor as an ongoing process remains the best course of action when it comes to birth control options.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

What I Learned About Work-Life Balance After Relapsing From Alcohol Addiction Recovery

Almost two years ago, I woke up in a hotel room, groggy and dehydrated, with my clothes all over the room and my nightstand filled with mini bottles of liquor. I had spent the previous two days drinking all the alcohol in my mini bar. I'm not sure wh…
By Irina Gonzalez

Everything Leaving & Coming To Netflix In March, So You Can Plan Your Next Marathon Now

Even though the groundhog saw his shadow — forecasting six more weeks of winter — a nice spring thaw is already on everyone's minds. Fortunately, Netflix has things squared away for March. Whether you're ready to cozy up in front of a fire or get you…
By Sophy Ziss

11 Thoughts That Mean You’re Not As Happy With Your Partner As You Might Think

Even if your current dating situation seems to be going well — you're hanging out, having fun, having sex, etc. — it's still possible that you might not be happy with your partner, and thus not truly happy in your relationship. This can be a gut feel…
By Carolyn Steber

25 Book Recommendations From Your Favorite TV Characters

Although the two may seem like natural enemies, the truth is, television and reading are a match made in bibliophile heaven. Not only are some of the best shows based on or inspired by literature, but whenever you turn on the tube you can be sure to …
By Sadie Trombetta

Bustle Editors On CPAC + 'Making A Murderer'

Adulthood is, essentially, just waiting until the weekend hits — which is why I know we're all glad it's finally Friday. Whether your plans are to catch up on all the Netflix content that'll be leaving the platform at the end of February, a weekend g…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

7 Signs Your Energy Is Closed Off To Love, According To A Psychic

Finding love requires more than just the actions of going on dates or setting up an online dating profile. It also requires opening yourself up to love and giving off the vibe that you're open. You may not even realize it if you're energetically bloc…
By Suzannah Weiss

It Took Heather Graham YEARS To Make A Movie About Women Ditching Toxic Men. The Reason? Men.

They say you should write what you know. But in Hollywood, that age-old advice apparently needs an addendum: Write what you know — as long as men are into it. And for actor and newly minted director/screenwriter Heather Graham — a woman who swam thro…
By Kelsea Stahler

Target Just Launched A Gorgeous New Home Brand — And Most Pieces Are Under $30

Design lovers rejoice! Everyone's favorite store for pretty much everything is about to make all your daring decorating dreams come true. Today, Target's corporate blog issued a press release that provides a peek into Target's new homeware line, Opal…
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

17 Brilliant Ways To Support Parkland Survivors Wherever You Are

Following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, survivors are demanding Congress take action. A large group of students who survived the shooting are opposing politicians' "thoughts and prayers," arguing that inst…
By Sarah Beauchamp

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale