‘It sounds worrying’: Dr Zoe says about contraception and cancer

This Morning: Dr Zoe on contraceptive pill cancer risk

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While the link between breast cancer and the use of the combined oral contraceptive has been established, a new study illuminates the risks of progestogen-only contraceptives. Published on March 21, 2023, in PLOS Medicine, the study provided “important new evidence” that current or recent use of progestogen-only contraceptives is associated with a slight increase in breast cancer risk. Examples of progestogen-only contraceptives include the mini pill, implant, and injection.

The link is noted to be “similar in magnitude to that associated with combined hormonal contraceptives”.

Examples of combined hormonal contraceptions include birth control pills, the patch, and vaginal birth control ring.

Combined hormonal contraceptions contain the hormones oestrogen and progestogens – the synthetic forms of progesterone.

Appearing on ITV’s This Morning on Thursday, March 23, Dr Zoe discussed the findings of the study.

“It sounds worrying,” Dr Zoe began, but she assured the risk is minimal.

Pointing out “what we know already”, Dr Zoe said combined contraceptives increase breast cancer risk by 20 percent.

Now research has shown that progestogen-only contraceptives increase the risk by 20 to 30 percent.

In 100,000 young women (aged 16 to 20), over a 15-year period, 40 “will get cancer anyway” without the use of contraception.

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If the women did take contraception, an “additional eight” of them would go on to develop breast cancer.

Dr Zoe emphasised this is a “tiny, tiny, tiny risk”, elaborating on the slightly higher risk for women aged between 35 to 39.

“Their background risk of getting breast cancer, 100,000 women, over 15 years, is much higher. It’s 1,325 cases,” said Dr Zoe.

“If those 100,000 women then take contraception with hormones, then an additional 20 percent – an additional 265 out of 100,000 – [would get breast cancer].”

Dr Zoe believes this is “still a small number, a small risk” that women have in developing breast cancer.

Furthermore, she says it’s all about weighing the risk alongside the benefits, such as preventing an unwanted pregnancy.

Hormonal contraceptives can also “protect against ovarian and endometrial cancer” so, overall, there’s “no increase of cancer at all”.

Dr Zoe explained that by reducing the risk of some cancers, it then counterbalances the minimal risk of breast cancer.

There are other lifestyle factors that contribute to the development of breast cancer, Dr Zoe pointed out.

Examples included older age, genetics, drinking alcohol, smoking, an excessive body mass index (BMI), and physical inactivity.

Having access to all this information enables women to make an “informed choice”, said Dr Zoe.

For women concerned about their current contraception, Dr Zoe said “there is no reason to change” what you are on because of this study.

If, however, you would like to discuss your contraception with your doctor then, of course, “make an appointment with your GP… talk it through”.

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