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07 December 2017, 07:43 | Silvia Roy
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"There had been some changes to oral contraceptive formulations in the '90s, and there was the hope those formulations would result in a lower risk of breast cancer", said Gaudet, who was not part of the study.
Other studies had shown about the same breast cancer risk for older versions of birth control pills.
Women who used an intrauterine device that releases only progestin also faced a 21 per cent increase in risk, compared with non-users, the study found.
Use of oral contraceptives may increase risk of breast cancer, although the overall absolute increase for breast cancer cases was relatively small.
Women who now use or recently used hormone-based contraception face a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer, although the overall risk for most women is relatively low, a new study of 1.8 million women in Denmark has concluded.
However, the absolute risk for developing breast cancer for most women is extremely low. The study used an average of 10 years of data from more than 1.8 million Danish women. The link with cancer risk exists not only for older generations of hormonal contraceptives but also for the products that many women use today, according to a paper published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study found few differences in risk between the formulations; women can not protect themselves by turning to implants or intrauterine devices that release a hormone directly into the uterus.
"However, the risk also with newer progestins was more consistent and convincing than expected, in particular the increased risk with hormone IUD (includes only progestin)". "Taking a very low absolute risk and increasing it only slightly is still a relatively low risk".
Officials with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that they would carefully evaluate the new findings, but emphasized that hormonal contraceptives are for many women "among the most safe, effective and accessible options available".
"They shouldn't necessarily change what they're doing", Gaudet said.
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"Another thing that has not been clear before is that after discontinuation, if you have used this product for more than 5 years, the risk seems to be increased, even after 5 years of discontinuation of the drugs", chief author Dr. Lina Morch, a senior researcher at Copenhagen University Hospital told Reuters Health by phone. Most cases of breast cancer were seen in women using oral contraceptives in their 40s. Women who had used hormonal birth control for less than a year had only a 9 percent increase in their relative risk, while women who had used birth control for more than 10 years had a 38 percent increase.
"And there is also the reassuring thought that oral contraceptive use may decrease the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer". The findings indicate that the hormone progestin is adding to breast cancer risk; some of the contraceptive pills and numerous IUDs included only progestin, Mørch said. Don't forget there is relative risk of death in pregnancy, too. Any woman's risk of breast cancer goes up as she gets older.
Most breast cancers are fueled by estrogen. "The range of risks we're talking about here is much much smaller", she said.
The new study looked at all women in Denmark ages 15 to 49 who had not had cancer, clots in their veins, or treatment for infertility.
Duration of use also contributed to associated breast cancer risk.
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IUDs infused with hormones also appear to pose a risk, Morch said, so "so there's a lot of things to take into account when deciding what type of contraception to use". But he suggested doctors take time to discuss the pros and cons of different types of contraception with their patients, and that they be frank about the potential risks, suggesting women reassess hormone use as they age.
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