|Birth Control Pills
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In 2003, the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) sought to reassure women that using birth control pills would not raise their risk for breast cancer. NCI also told women that having an abortion was not a risk factor for breast cancer. Now it turns out that a study published in April 2009 by Jessica Dolle and other researchers of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center appears to show just the opposite: oral contraception (OCs) is linked with an increased risk for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) in women who are 45 years old and younger. The research paper, "Risk factors for triple-negative breast cancer in women under the age of 45 years," was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. This research paper features a table of risk factors, which includes oral contraception use, tobacco and alcohol consumption, number of births, breastfeeding, and induced abortion.
Dolle's research shows that if you started taking birth control pills before age 18, your risk for TNBC is increased by 3.7 times. If you've been using The Pill within the last one to five years, your TBNC risk is raised 4.2 times. Triple-negative breast cancer is aggressive and strikes women who are under 40, and many victims are African Americans. Survival odds for TBNC are lower than average, compared to other types of breast cancer.
As if that news were not alarming enough, a statement in this paper refers to induced abortion as a factor that is associated with an increased breast cancer risk. One of the study co-authors, Louise Brinton, spearheaded the 2003 NCI workshop about the abortion-breast cancer link (referred to as ABC). That workshop made every effort to assure women that having an induced abortion was not linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, and that research did not support an ABC link. Keep in mind that this paper discusses only one study.
Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2002, I took birth control pills for about 5 years. They prevented conception, made me a little queasy, but seemed otherwise harmless. In those days, the hormones in The Pill were lower than contraceptives that were produced in the 1980's, so I thought they were safe. After all, a doctor prescribed them for me - so no health risk, right? Maybe they were wrong! As soon as my breast lump was detected on a mammogram, when I was 46 years old, I was told to stop taking The Pill. That was one year before NCI told us that The Pill would not raise my risk for breast cancer. Now, I wish I'd never taken it. Perhaps one's risk is not as simple as taking The Pill, or eating a healthy diet, or having a genetic mutation - but if my risk is lower now because of being off contraceptives and never having had an abortion, I'm glad there's something I can do. I just wish we could have as much information as possible, to reduce our risk of breast cancer.Update 1/14/2010: Based on your feedback and on getting a copy of this research paper, I have been rethinking and revising this blog post. Having read the research myself, I have a better understanding of the table data and their implications. Look for a new blog post on this, in which I will clarify the impact of this study, in relation to the NCI's 2003 Workshop.
What do you believe about abortion, birth control pills, and breast cancer risk? Sound off - leave a comment below.
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