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Can oral contraceptives or birth control pills help to prevent ovarian cancer?

Is this preventive measure helpful for every woman? Read to know!

Written by Debjani Arora |Published : February 1, 2018 1:40 PM IST

Seems like these pills were not meant for just one benefit to avoid unwanted pregnancy they have some other hidden benefits too, like protecting women from the wrath of ovarian cancer. If studies are to be believed, long-term use of oral contraceptives can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer in women. One of the oldest studies documented in the year 1992 which took 20 studies into consideration to come to the conclusion if oral contraceptives help prevent ovarian cancer, pointed out that the risk of ovarian cancer decreased by 10 to 12 percent in women who took oral contraceptives for a year and by 50 percent for those who took it for five years. The study was published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynaecology [1]. Here are few myths and facts about birth control pills that you should know.

However, taking oral contraceptives is not a gold standard of prevention of ovarian cancer. Researchers tried to delve into the matter as for how the oral contraceptives actually helped. In 2002 a study published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute reported that pills that were formulated with high-progestin appeared to be associated with a greater reduction in ovarian cancer risk than those with low-progestin formulations. It concluded that the effect might be due to inhibition of ovulation and/or there might be some biological effects of progestin providing some protective cover to the ovaries [2]. Here are few symptoms of ovarian cancer that every woman should know.

In fact, to make sure that the argument of OCPs providing protection against ovarian cancer was on the right track, in 2005 some more researchers tried to study the effectiveness of these pills depending on their androgenicity. Now, OCPs are known to infer some testosterone-like effects (androgenicity) when taken regularly. To know if the androgenicity affected the benefits of the OCPs a study was conducted and published in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. It was concluded that both androgenic pills and the nonandrogenic ones have same protective effect on the ovaries [3].

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Even with all these studies showing a positive effect when it comes to reducing the risk of ovarian cancer, one cannot avoid the obvious risk factors. For women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation how OCPs can help to prevent ovarian cancer is unclear. However, studies were done to see if these women could benefit in any way from oral contraceptives. It was seen that the risk of ovarian cancer among carriers of a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation decreases with each birth but not with increased duration of use of oral contraceptives. So, they might not be a good preventive measure for women with these mutations. Instead, pregnancy provided some protective effects over here [4]. Read to know if ovarian cancer can affect fertility.

So, these studies show that even though oral contraceptives can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer it isn t a solution for all. If you are taking oral contraceptives thinking it can prevent ovarian cancer talk to your doctor once to weigh in your risk factors.


[1]1: Hankinson SE, Colditz GA, Hunter DJ, Spencer TL, Rosner B, Stampfer MJ. A quantitative assessment of oral contraceptive use and risk of ovarian cancer. Obstet Gynecol. 1992 Oct;80(4):708-14. PubMed PMID: 1407899.

[2]1: Schildkraut JM, Calingaert B, Marchbanks PA, Moorman PG, Rodriguez GC. Impact of progestin and estrogen potency in oral contraceptives on ovarian cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002 Jan 2;94(1):32-8. PubMed PMID: 11773280.

[3]1: Greer JB, Modugno F, Allen GO, Ness RB. Androgenic progestins in oral contraceptives and the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Apr;105(4):731-40. PubMed PMID: 15802398.

[4]1: Modan B, Hartge P, Hirsh-Yechezkel G, Chetrit A, Lubin F, Beller U, Ben-Baruch G, Fishman A, Menczer J, Struewing JP, Tucker MA, Wacholder S; National Israel Ovarian Cancer Study Group. Parity, oral contraceptives, and the risk of ovarian cancer among carriers and noncarriers of a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. N Engl J Med. 2001 Jul 26;345(4):235-40. PubMed PMID: 11474660.

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