Birth control pill increases risks of cervical and breast cancer

November 11, 2017

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, part of the World Health Organization, in a review of current research, has concluded that oral contraceptives protected against some types of cancer but could possibly trigger others.

The IARC says that previously, liver cancer was indicated as a risk for women who take the pill, but the latest research shows cervical and breast cancer are also possible risks.

The IARC does say that the pill however can protect against endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer, and calls for more research to determine whether the total net benefits caused by the protective and carcinogenic effects were positive or negative.

The agency says that in order to establish whether the overall net public health outcome may be beneficial, a rigorous analysis is required.

According to the agency, new information about cancer risks, and also possible protective benefits against cancer, as in the case of oral contraceptives, makes it important that each woman who uses hormonal products discuss the risks and benefits with her doctor.

The IARC working group of 21 scientists have also elevated the warning on hormonal menopausal therapy to "carcinogenic" from "possibly carcinogenic".

The scientists concluded, based on an expanded study, that "combined menopausal therapy" increased the risk of breast cancer and in some cases endometrial cancer.

Around 100 million women worldwide, use oral contraceptives, and approximately 20 million women in developed countries have used hormonal menopausal therapy.


"Colon cancer has an equal incidence between men and women," stated Blair Lewis, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, and an ASGE spokesperson. He explained that the total number of new colon cancer cases, according to the American Cancer Society's Annual Report, is 145,290, of which 73,470 (50%) are women. The total colon cancer deaths are 56,290, of which 27,750 (49%) are women. For breast cancer, new cases in women are 211,240 and annual deaths are 40,410 (19%).

"So while breast cancer is more than twice as prevalent, a higher percentage of women die of colon cancer each year," Dr. Lewis stated. "That is why colon cancer screening is so important for both men and women over 50 years old." Currently, only 43.4% of the population has had a lower gastrointestinal endoscopy within the last 10 years, according to The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and Western Europe. "Early detection of colon cancer and, more importantly, the identification and removal of polyps that ultimately could become cancers can decrease the mortality for this disease," stated Dr. Elta.

In addition to Drs. Menees and Elta, other research team members included John Inadomi, MD, Sheryl Korsnes, MA, and Joseph W.C. Leung, MD.

The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), founded in 1941, is the preeminent professional organization dedicated to advancing the practice of Endoscopy. ASGE, with more than 8,000 physician members worldwide, promotes the highest standards for endoscopic training and practice, fosters endoscopic research, recognizes distinguished contributions to Endoscopy, and is the foremost resource for endoscopic education.