Combined birth control may reduce ovarian cancer risk

A male condom is a thin covering worn on the penis during intercourse. It can prevent sexually transmitted diseases and is about 82% effective at preventing pregnancy

A male condom is a thin covering worn on the penis during intercourse. It can prevent sexually transmitted diseases and is about 82% effective at preventing pregnancy

"In prior studies patients who use oral contraceptives for extended periods of time have been found to have significantly lower ovarian cancer risks", an obstetrician/gynaecologist, Dr. Jennifer Wu from the Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Those who immigrated after 1995, those who had cancer, were being treated for infertility, and those who had venous thrombosis were excluded from the study, while the remaining 1,879,227 women were categorized into three groups: those who had never used hormonal contraceptives, those who are current users, and those who used but had already stopped.

They particularly wanted to look at the effect on newer hormonal contraceptives on women of reproductive age. "It is important for women who are now of reproductive age and using hormonal contraceptives to know whether or not they have a reduced risk of ovarian cancer".

Other forms included in the study were progestogen-only oral contraceptives and the levonorgestrel releasing intrauterine device (IUD).

In 2014, for instance, over 21,000 new cases of ovarian cancer occurred, at least 14,000 of which resulted in death.

Women were categorised as never users (no record of being dispensed hormonal contraception), current or recent users (up to one year after stopping use), or former users (more than one year after stopping use) of different hormonal contraceptives.

The use protected from almost all types of ovarian cancer, the researchers said. Using combined hormonal contraception at any point, or in any form, was linked with a much lower risk of ovarian cancer.

Researchers previously noted a link between the use of oral contraceptives and cancer.

Meanwhile the age-adjusted incidence of ovarian cancer was highest in women who were never users of contraception (7.5 per 100,000 person years).

This means, the authors explain, that the "use of hormonal contraception prevented 21 [percent] of ovarian cancers in the study population".

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Reduced risk was stronger with increasing duration of hormonal contraceptive use, while reduced risk diminished over time since stopping use.

This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, but they do support the findings of studies of older products.

The study has limitations: for instance, the researchers stopped following women when they turned 50, so the impact on women as they got older was not be probed.

Therefore the results are only applicable to the group studied, i.e. women of reproductive age.

The study authors said: 'Based on our results, contemporary combined hormonal contraceptives are still associated with a reduced risk of ovarian cancer in women of reproductive age, with patterns similar to those seen with older combined oral contraceptives'.

"The reduced risk seems to persist after stopping use, although it is not yet known how long for". Women who had used them for more than 10 years showed a 74 percent lower risk.

Approximately 86 percent of the oral contraceptives that the women used were combined pills.

The study then separated the women into three groups: those who had never used hormonal contraception, women now using it or had used within the past year, and those who had stopped.

According to data from the United Nations, some 100 million women worldwide use hormonal birth control.

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