For those of you who aren’t quite audacious enough to adopt Bella Thorne’s all-natural approach to birth control (read: skipping it altogether), you’ll want to pay close attention to a new study that found a link between low-dose hormonal contraceptives and a slightly increased chance of developing breast cancer, which clashes with a general belief among researchers that these birth control methods would actually eliminate said risks. A team of researchers from Denmark spent an 11-year-period observing 1.8 million women from ages 15 to 49, comparing changes in a group who took hormonal contraceptives to those experienced by subjects who used non-hormonal methods such as condoms, copper intrauterine devices or diaphragms. The study was also able to detect how the women were impacted by the patch, hormonal IUDs, contraceptive implants and the vaginal ring.
The project’s lead researcher Lina Mørch said the results revealed “a roughly 20 percent increased risk [of breast cancer] among women who currently use some type of hormonal contraception.” Additionally, the study indicated a positive correlation between the breast cancer risk increase and the amount of time hormonal contraceptive methods are used.
Since news like this tends to cause some people to press the panic button, we consulted with medical experts to quell any concerns about the reliability of the study. Dr. Prudence Hall, founder of The Hall Center and a pioneer of the regenerative medicine field, absolutely co-signs the findings.
“The Scandinavian studies are extremely accurate, because everyone is enrolled in a central national healthcare system and long-term data is kept and well regulated,” Hall tells Playboy, citing previous studies that arrived at a similar conclusion. Researchers also pointed out that most of the subjects who experienced an increased breast cancer risk were women in their 40s and older who used oral contraceptives.
“Menopause increases inflammation, stress and blood sugars in the body, which increases the risk of all systemic diseases as women age (dementia, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and breast cancer),” says Hall.
Epidemiologist David Hunter countered the study in an accompanying editorial, writing that “many calculations suggest that the use of oral contraceptives actually prevents more cancers than it causes.”
Dr. Constance M. Chen, a post-mastectomy breast reconstruction surgeon, says that’s a difficult determination to make because it depends on various factors.
“With regard to any treatment or medication […] there are always sacrifices you make in order to obtain some sort of gain,” Chen explains in an email to Playboy. “In addition, the risk/benefit ratio will also depend upon the physiology of an individual woman. If someone is genetically predisposed to breast cancer but not to ovarian cancer or vice versa, then there may be a different risk/benefit calculation as to how safe oral birth control pills are for the person.”
Dr. Kecia Gaither, gynecologist, supports this sentiment, explaining to Playboy that the study could’ve benefitted from taking other risk factors into account but that the findings should not be overlooked.
“I do believe the study will serve as an ample springboard for more research into novel hormonally mediated methods of birth control that don’t increase one’s risk of breast cancer,” Gaither says.
Ultimately, both Chen and Gaither insist that research like this helps women remain informed and empowered to choose their contraceptive methods wisely.
“I think this study provides important information that women can take into account when they are making decisions about family planning, and whether or not oral birth control pills make sense for them,” Chen says.
“Women with specific risk factors for breast cancer should strongly consider other methodologies for contraception, and consult with their medical provider concerning the options available,” Gaither adds.
Unfortunately, contraceptives are still harming women, in spite of all the remarkable medical advances that have taken place in this year alone. For the time being, we can only hope that a risk-free hormonal birth control option will surface soon, finally giving the millions of women who rely on them one less health threat to contend with.