Ovarian Cancer, Endometrial Cancer, and the Pill

birth-control-pillsThe most popular method of birth control in the United States is the Pill, followed by tubal ligation (permanent sterilization, or getting your tubes tied) and condoms. The Pill is a hormonal method of contraception, while sterilization and condoms are nonhormonal. The distinction between hormonal and nonhormonal methods of birth control are simply that the former contain synthetic versions of human hormones, while the latter do not.


By suppressing ovulation and thinning the uterine lining, the Pill can reduce risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers.


Glands in our bodies, called endocrine glands, produce hormones; additionally, testes and ovaries — which are parts of the human reproductive system — manufacture hormones. Human hormones are powerful chemicals, which do all sorts of jobs, from triggering puberty to helping us extract energy from the foods we eat. So it’s not a huge stretch to wonder if exposure to the hormones present in certain birth control methods — such as the Pill, in addition to the patch, the ring, the shot, the implant, and some types of IUDs — might have unintended effects on the body. Because hormones can play a role in cancer — either in protecting against it or aiding in its development — researchers are very interested to know if the Pill might increase or decrease risk for various types of cancer.

It’s actually a bit tricky to investigate the possible associations between the Pill and various types of cancer. First of all, there are dozens of types of birth control pills, all with different versions of synthetic hormones, at different dosages, and in different proportions to one another. Furthermore, the types of oral contraceptives on the market change over time — today’s birth control pill is not your mother’s birth control pill. Studying “the Pill” as a single entity could obscure differences between brands. Secondly, most cancers tend to develop later in life, many years after someone may have taken oral contraceptives. Researchers need to be careful to control for all the variables that might increase or decrease cancer risk. Continue reading

Contraception Then and Now

When it comes to contraception, one thing is for sure: We’ve come a long way! And while the future might have even better things in store, like reversible male birth control, superior condoms, or remote-controlled implants, a look into the past reveals that modern contraceptors have a bevy of fantastic options to choose from. Unlike couples who had to forgo contraception or obtain birth control from the black market, nowadays Americans wishing to prevent or postpone pregnancy can select from a variety of legal, effective, and increasingly accessible family-planning methods.


While the history of birth control is fascinating, today’s contraception is the very best.


Let’s look at some old-fashioned birth-control methods and see how they stack up to their modern-day counterparts.

Linen and Guts vs. Latex and Polyurethane Condoms

Most people think of female condoms as new inventions, but the first condom recorded in history was made out of a goat’s bladder and inserted into the vagina — way back in 3000 BC. Ancient civilizations, from the Romans to the Egyptians to the Japanese, made penile sheaths and caps with a variety of materials, including linen, leather, lubricated silk paper, intestines, and tortoise shells. Linen and intestines remained popular through the Renaissance era.

A condom, with a user manual, from 1813. Photo: Matthias Kabel

A condom, with user manual, 1813. Photo: Matthias Kabel

Charles Goodyear might be most famous for tires, but his discoveries in vulcanizing rubber also led to the development of rubber condoms in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, the Comstock Act of 1873 outlawed the manufacture and sale of contraception, and condoms were driven into a shadow economy. In the 1880s, New Yorkers might have been lucky to find black-market condoms made from surplus animal intestines, which were manufactured by Julius Schmid, a German immigrant who otherwise specialized in sausage casings — before his business was shut down by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Condoms weren’t legal in the United States until the Crane ruling of 1918, just in time for the 1920 invention of latex, a form of rubber that was much stronger and more elastic — and with a shelf life of five years vs. rubber’s three months. By the 1920s, Schmid was once again on top of the condom game, peddling brands like Sheik, Ramses, and Sphinx.

Condoms made out of intestines are still on the market, sold as lambskin or “natural” condoms. However, they are not recommended for STD protection: Just as intestines need to allow nutrients to enter the body from digesting food, so too are viruses able to pass through condoms made from intestines. (Sperm, on the other hand, are thought to be too big.) These days, latex is the gold-standard material for condoms, while polyurethane can be used by people with latex allergies. Condoms constructed with these modern materials protect users from unintended pregnancy as well as many sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV and chlamydia. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Dispelling Myths About Emergency Contraception

EmergencyContraceptionSince 1998, when the Food and Drug Administration first approved the morning-after pill, there have been controversies about its sale and use. Initially, age restrictions were enforced to regulate its sale, and some hospitals and pharmacies refused to provide it to their patients. After considerable pressure from public and medical groups, emergency contraception (EC) is available for sale to anyone at their local pharmacy, with the exception of ella and the copper IUD, both of which require prescriptions.


Emergency contraception is widely available, easy to use, and safe!


And yet, after almost 20 years of remarkably safe use, there are still myths regarding its safety, actions and use. Let’s look at some of those myths right now!

First, there are misunderstandings regarding EC’s availability:

Myth: EC is hard to get and you need a prescription.

Since 2013, most ECs are available to buy in pharmacies over the counter to anyone, regardless of age or gender. There are two exceptions: If you need ella, another morning-after pill, you do need a prescription, and the copper IUD requires placement by a health care provider.

Myth: There is only one type of EC available.

There are several different pills available, such as Plan B One-Step or generic equivalents. These all contain levonorgestrol, a progesterone hormone that is also in many other contraceptives. Ella contains ulipristal acetate and works effectively and evenly up to five days after unprotected sex. Ella is dispensed with a prescription. The copper IUD also needs a prescription but is the most effective EC when placed within five days of unprotected sex. It is recommended for obese women or women who have had several episodes of unprotected sex, and its contraceptive effect lasts 10 years. Continue reading

Contraception in the Zombie Apocalypse

The zombie hoard approaches. Photo: Caio Schiavo

The zombie horde approaches. Photo: Caio Schiavo

If you’ve watched a zombie movie with your friends, you’ve probably talked about what kinds of weapons you’d be packing in case of a zombie apocalypse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even has a list of supplies you’ll need for a zombie preparedness kit, which includes smart choices like water, duct tape, and bleach. (I would add toilet paper to that list. How you’ll miss it when you’re on the run!) But how many of you have discussed birth control?


You’ve probably picked out which weapons to use during the zombie apocalypse. But have you chosen a birth control method?


Even if your greatest dream is to have a baby, you must admit that the zombie apocalypse is the worst time to be pregnant, give birth, and raise a child. Fleeing and hand-to-hand combat can be a drag while pregnant, and childbirth can kill you, especially without access to trained personnel or hygienic supplies. And if you do manage to birth a baby into this cruel new world, diapers can distract from more pressing duties, and the infant’s cries can attract undead attention.

When you’re in hardcore fight-or-flight mode, taking a pill at the same time every day might be difficult, and besides, a supply of pills can take up valuable backpack real estate. Plus, even if you find an abandoned pharmacy to raid, birth control pills and condoms come with expiration dates and can be affected by high temperatures. The same goes for contraceptive patches and rings. For these reasons, you need a contraceptive method that’s well suited to the zombie apocalypse. Besides abstinence, what are your options? Continue reading

Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 21: Contraception

World Contraception DayWelcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl never knew about.

Birth control is about so much more than just one type of pill. First of all, there are dozens of varieties of the Pill, and beyond that even more types of contraception! With so many options available, you’re bound to find the birth control option that’s right for you, and Planned Parenthood can help you find it.

Birth Control Pills: The Pill is probably the first thing people think of when they think of birth control, and it’s no wonder: Since its introduction in 1960, it has become an iconic symbol of women’s liberation. Taken at the same time every day, the Pill is an incredibly effective form of birth control that works by suppressing ovulation. And there are many different types, from those that are specially designed to reduce the number of periods you have in a year, to progestin-only mini-pills, from name brand pills to generic pills, and more!

Vaginal Ring: Not everyone likes taking a daily pill; some people are naturally forgetful, while others have hectic schedules that don’t make it easy to dedicate a time of the day to pill-taking. That’s where contraceptives like NuvaRing come in: This flexible ring is inserted into the vagina, where it releases a low dose of daily hormones. Leave it in for three weeks, remove it for a week, and then start the cycle anew with a new ring!

Birth Control Patch: Ring not your thing? Maybe a patch is where it’s at. It works a lot like the ring, only instead of inserting it into your vagina, you pop the patch out of its wrapper and stick it to your skin, where it stays in place for a full week, releasing hormones all the while. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: IUDs, a Choice for Teens

IUD in handIntrauterine devices, commonly known as IUDs, have been around for almost 50 years. They are terrific at preventing unwanted pregnancy and have high rates of satisfaction among users. Yet fewer than 6 percent of women in the United States used IUDs from 2006 to 2008, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Why are they not a first choice of contraception or used more than they are?


There are hormonal and non-hormonal IUDs available: Skyla, Mirena, and Paragard.


A bit of history: Even though the concept of IUDs has been around since the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the Dalkon Shield was marketed in the ’60s and ’70s that IUDs were more widely used. However, due to design flaws in the shield, many users experienced bad infections and a few people died. The Dalkon Shield was taken off the market and the bad reputation of IUDs remained seared in the minds of the public. Today, newer IUDs are much improved — with a better design and fewer problems, fewer than 1 percent of users have serious complications. But still they remain underused and misunderstood, according to some health experts.

Recently, studies have shown that IUDs are an excellent choice for teens who usually want a long-term method of birth control that is easy to use and easily reversible. As a matter of fact, ACOG states that IUDs are the most effective reversible contraceptives available and are safe, reliable, and cost-effective for most users, including teens.

Other methods of birth control, like the Pill, rely on consistent use, which can be difficult for some users to comply with. This problem is eliminated with the use of an IUD, which can prevent pregnancy for years. Once inserted in the uterus by a health care provider, you don’t need to do anything else to prevent pregnancy. Continue reading

Eight Great Heat-Friendly Contraceptives

heat friendlyI don’t know if any of my fellow Arizonans have noticed, but it’s hot. It’s been hot. And all sources tell me that it’s likely to remain hot for a couple of months yet.

There are, of course, things we can do to make the heat more manageable for ourselves, such as drinking plenty of water and relegating intense outdoor activity to the early morning or late evening hours. There are also things we can do to help our contraceptives beat the heat if necessary, such as storing condoms or birth control pills away from extreme heat.

Still, some types of contraception require more intervention during the summer than do others. So — our top eight types of heat-friendly birth control!

Quick disclaimer: I made this list based on the single criterion that these methods are unlikely to be affected by the heat of an Arizona summer. When selecting a contraceptive method, there are loads of other factors to consider. So the methods on this list are not necessarily the most effective or appropriate methods for every person needing birth control.

8 Birth Control Vaginal Ring (NuvaRing)

  • Why It’s Heat Friendly: In terms of storage, it’s technically not; NuvaRing comes with the same temperature recommendations as oral contraceptive pills. However, since the ring is only inserted once per month, folks getting their rings one at a time don’t have to worry about longer-term storage.
  • Cons: In addition to the same risks and side effects of estrogen-containing contraceptives, NuvaRing isn’t the heat-friendliest choice for users getting more than one month at a time. Continue reading