Hormonal contraception can slightly increase a person’s risk of developing breast cancer. This can vary according to the type of contraception they use. However, the benefits of birth control often outweigh the risks. For example, hormonal contraception can prevent unintended pregnancy and may protect against other cancers.
There seems to be a link between hormonal contraception and a slight increase in the risk of breast cancer. This may be because oral contraceptives use hormones to stop people from becoming pregnant, which may overstimulate breast cells and increase the risk of breast cancer.
However, there are other types of birth control besides hormonal contraception. A person can prevent unintended pregnancies without raising their risk of breast cancer.
That said, hormonal contraception may impart certain health benefits, such as a reduced risk of ovarian cysts and other types of cancer.
This article will examine the links between birth control and breast cancer. It will also explain the benefits of hormonal contraception and provide some alternatives to hormonal birth control for those worried about its risks. It will also provide some information about other risk factors for breast cancer.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
According to one 2017 study, hormonal contraception can slightly increase a person’s risk of breast cancer.
The study involved 1.8 million females in Denmark who were aged 15–49. The females had not had cancer or received fertility treatment.
The researchers revealed that participants using hormonal contraception had a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who were not. This meant that around 1 participant in every 7,690 developed breast cancer.
However, the researchers noted that other factors, including age, may affect a person’s risk of developing breast cancer.
Participants younger than 35 years had a lower risk of developing breast cancer. Among the females who had been using hormonal contraception for a year, only 1 participant in every 50,000 developed breast cancer.
Once a person stops taking hormonal contraception, their risk of breast cancer seems to return to normal after around 5 years.
Overall, the risk of breast cancer was higher among females who currently use or recently used contemporary hormonal contraceptives than among those who had never used hormonal contraceptives.
This risk increased with longer durations of use, but absolute increases in risk were small.
The triphasic pill is a type of multiphasic pill. It changes hormone dose three times according to a person’s cycle. Monophasic pills, however, use the same amount of hormones for the whole cycle.
Triphasic pills are still available, but they have fallen out of favor in recent years. People using these pills should talk with a doctor if they have any concerns about their risk of cancer.
People with breast cancer may wish to avoid using birth control pills or hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs). This is because these methods can affect the growth of tumor cells in people with hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer.
However, there are many non-hormonal alternatives that a person with breast cancer could use.
If a person is concerned about the slightly elevated breast cancer risk associated with hormonal birth control or needs to avoid it because they have breast cancer, they could consider:
- Barrier methods: A safe alternative to hormonal contraception could be one of the many forms of barrier method, including:
- Non-hormonal IUDs: A non-hormonal IUD can help a person avoid pregnancy without increasing the risk of breast cancer.
- Permanent birth control surgery: If a person is sure that they do not want to have children, they can explore the permanent surgical options that are available to those looking for alternatives to more temporary forms of birth control. For example, a male may consider a vasectomy.
Healthcare professionals emphasize that the benefits of birth control often outweigh the risks. The sections below will look at some potential benefits of birth control in more detail.
Pregnancy-related risks can be higher
The elevated risk of breast cancer is very small compared with the socioeconomic and health risks that an unintended pregnancy could bring.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists cites a
This mortality rate is more than double the statistics for increased breast cancer risk due to using hormonal contraception in the Danish study (13 additional cases for every 100,000 participants).
According to the
Overall cancer risk is lower
Therefore, overall cancer risk may be lower in those who take hormonal contraception despite the slightly raised breast cancer risk it can cause.
Other health benefits
Oral contraceptives may also have other health benefits, including:
- a more regular menstrual cycle
- reduced symptoms of premenstrual syndrome
- a reduced risk of ovarian cysts
- reduced symptoms of endometriosis
- reduced symptoms of perimenopause
- a possible improvement in acne
According to the
Some factors that increase the risk of breast cancer include:
- Inherited risks: Risks from family history include mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
- Older age: Age is the main risk factor for breast cancer. The risk increases with advancing age.
- Personal history of breast cancer and breast cancer treatment: A person may be more at risk of breast cancer if they have ever had:
- Menopause medications: A person who is using hormone replacement therapy for the symptoms of menopause may have a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer.
People can take certain measures to prevent general cancer risk factors, such as:
Researchers have found links between hormonal contraceptives and a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.
People with other risk factors — such as older age, a family history of breast cancer, or a personal history of breast cancer — are at increased risk of breast cancer.
Hormonal contraceptives do have some health benefits, however, including a reduced risk of ovarian and uterine cancer. Young people who are in good health are at average risk of breast cancer whether they take hormonal contraceptives or not.
People at higher risk of breast cancer and those who either have breast cancer or have already recovered from it could use non-hormonal methods of birth control, such as barrier methods, non-hormonal IUDs, or permanent options such as surgery.