Do Birth Control Pills Cause Breast Cancer? The Latest Study

Last month, you might have seen headlines warning you that hormonal birth control increases risk for breast cancer. This news came from a study that examined the medical records of nearly 1.8 million Danish women — and the huge sample size lent heft to the findings, several of which stood in stark contradiction to commonly held beliefs about modern hormonal contraception.


Some types of hormonal contraception could increase breast cancer risk, while others may not. But the Pill also reduces risk for endometrial and ovarian cancers.


Birth control comes in two “flavors” — hormonal and nonhormonal. Hormonal contraception is among the most effective, and includes birth control pills, hormonal IUDs, the shot, the vaginal ring, the implant, and the patch. Nonhormonal contraception ranges from very effective, including surgical sterilization and the copper IUD, to the not-quite-as-effective, including condoms, diaphragms, and withdrawal. (With the exception of condoms, birth control does not provide protection against STDs.)

Hormonal contraception is one of the greatest achievements in the history of medicine, and offers those wishing to control their fertility an array of effective options. However, as with all effective medications, there is potential for side effects. And, because many forms of hormonal birth control contain types of estrogen, and exposure to estrogen is a risk factor for breast cancer, many people wonder if hormonal birth control might increase users’ chances of developing breast cancer later in life.

Most birth control pills contain a combination of two hormones: estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone). Other hormonal methods, such as the ring and the patch, also use combinations of these two hormones.

There are also pills that don’t contain estrogen, called POPs, or progestin-only pills — aka the “minipill.” Additionally, hormonal IUDs, the implant, and the shot are progestin-only methods.

What Previous Studies Have Shown

The connection between hormonal contraception and breast cancer is murky, because the association is difficult to study properly. There are so many different types of hormonal contraceptives, each with different dosages, different chemical formulations, and different ways of entering the body. We can’t tease these differences apart on the one hand, but make blanket statements about hormonal contraception as a whole on the other hand. But we can look at the available evidence and see where it points. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Contraceptive Patches

Is there a topical birth control available, you ask? No contraceptive cream or ointment has been developed yet, but yes, there is a patch that can be applied to your skin that is almost 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.


Patches are easy to use, discreet, and provide excellent birth control.


It’s called a transdermal patch and there is only one available by prescription in the United States. The Ortho Evra patch (or the generic version, called Xulane) is a small, sticky plastic patch that you apply to your skin: one patch each week for three weeks and then no patch for one week before you start the cycle again. While you wear a patch, it releases both a progesterone hormone, norelgestromin, and an estrogen hormone, ethinyl estradiol. This hormone combination is absorbed through your skin and enters your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy, much like oral birth control pills. It is discreet and can be worn comfortably and confidently during bathing, showering, swimming, and exercising without fear of its falling off. As a matter of fact, the patch has been rigorously tested in many situations, and these studies have shown that when applied properly, the patch loosens or falls off less than 2 percent of the time.

Contraceptive patches come in boxes of three for each month. To use a patch, you open a packet and apply one patch to clean, dry, intact (not irritated or injured) skin. It is recommended to apply it to areas on the buttocks, abdomen, upper torso but not breasts, or outer part of upper arm. It should not be applied to areas where it could be rubbed off, such as under a bra strap. Most users apply the patch the first day of their period or the Sunday after the start of their period. When you initially start using the patch, you will need to use a back-up contraceptive method such as a condom for the first seven days. If you are switching to the patch from birth control pills or the vaginal ring, you apply your first patch on the day you would usually start your next pill pack of pills or insert your next vaginal ring. In that case you do not need to use a back-up method of birth control. Continue reading