Does the Pill Cause Cancer?
Welcome to Mythbuster Monday. On today’s agenda, we present to you one of the internet’s most beloved medical scare tactics: the cancer myth. If you type “birth control cancer” into your search engine, it will spit out a slew of misleading and often contradictory claims. So let’s set the story straight.
While many have been lead to believe that the pill may cause cancer, the opposite is often actually true. Taking oral contraceptives can help guard you from several forms of the disease, including ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancer. Researchers have made many suggestions as to why the risk of these cancers decrease with oral contraception use.
In the case of ovarian cancer, it works like this: because the pill reduces the number of ovulation cycles that you will experience over the course of your lifetime, your body’s exposure to naturally occurring female hormones is reduced. This reduced exposure decreases ovarian cancer risk by 30% to 50%.  This reduced risk is especially important for ovarian cancer since only about 20% of ovarian cancers are found at an a early stage  and therefore carries a high mortality rate, even among younger women.
The pill also has been shown to decrease endometrial cancer risk. Research indicates that women who have used the pill at some point in their lives are about 30% less at risk than those who have never been on oral contraception. This is because the pill helps our bodies suppress endometrial cell proliferation . That’s a mouthful. Basically what that means is that the pill reduces these potentially cancer-causing cells’ ability to multiply in the lining of the uterus.
Colorectal cancer, aka cancer of the colon or rectum, brings us to a whole other arena of unpleasantness. Research shows that the hormones often contained in oral contraceptives lower bile acid levels in your blood. Studies suggest that taking the pill reduces your chance of getting this type of cancer by 15–20%. 
Now here’s where the real nuance comes in. Some women are hesitant to take birth control pills because of a reported increased risk of breast cancer. While past studies show that there may be an elevated risk, a new study from Harvard concluded that if you stopped using birth control years ago, your risk of breast cancer is likely nearly the same as women who never used hormonal contraception at all. 
In your Googling, you may also read about how certain studies link oral contraception increased cervical cancer risk by making cervical cells more vulnerable to persistent infection.  While studies do indicate that taking birth control pills for more than five years may increase your risk of cervical cancer, there are many other factors that may tie into this such as a decreased use of barrier methods like condoms.
Moral of the story: Be aware of your family history and talk to your doctor about whether going on the pill is best for you. If you are currently using birth control pills and need help ensuring that you take your pills at the same time every day, EMME can help. Our app offers helpful, non-invasive pill reminders and clear instructions on what to do if you miss a pill.
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- “Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk.” National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/hormones/oral-contraceptives-fact-sheet.
- “Can Ovarian Cancer Be Found Early?” https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html
- “Study Finds Weak Link Between Birth Control and Breast Cancer” https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/study-finds-weak-link-between-birth-control-and-breast-cancer