Ovarian Cancer, Endometrial Cancer, and the Pill

The 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

Are There Any Survivors in the Room? A Story for Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month

female-dr-comforting-patient“Are there any survivors in the room?”

I don’t remember why I was there, but it was a discussion of cancer. I looked around at the people who had raised their hands. It wasn’t until the speaker moved on that I realized I was a cancer survivor, too.

Does that seem strange? But my first cancer in 2004 was so ambiguous. I had had a routine Pap test, and was referred to a gynecologist. I had had problematic Pap tests before, and it had usually meant I had a uterine polyp or a vaginal infection. This time it was not simple dysplasia. It seems I had precancerous cells, and the recommended treatment was a hysterectomy. I thought about it, and my sister discussed it with a friend who was also a gynecologist, and reported back that surgery was indeed the treatment of choice.


How was I supposed to relate to a cancer diagnosis that was made only after the cancer was out of my body?


I was over 50, and had pretty much gone through menopause, though once or twice a year I would have some bleeding. Everything about my reproductive system was ambiguous. I had started menstruating at age 9, along with the body changes of puberty, but seldom had my periods. When I was 18 and starting to move beyond my circumscribed Jewish Bronx upbringing, I was diagnosed with Stein-Leventhal syndrome. Great, I thought, I finally get a diagnosis, and it’s Jewish! Since that time, the condition has been renamed polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. PCOS is a risk factor for many other diseases, including endometrial cancer.

But let’s get back to the hysterectomy. I had already decided that I would have the surgery when my sister got back to me. What had my uterus done for me lately, anyway? I had the doctors make the arrangements, met with the surgeon, and went through all the pre-surgery rigmarole. I made plans to stay with a friend for about a week after surgery, and checked into the hospital. When I woke up afterward, I was told that the biopsy that was done during surgery had been negative. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • scientist face maskThe GOP debates were last night. Just an FYI: Every single one of those dingbats has deplorable, antiquated views on women’s reproductive rights and health. (Bustle)
  • The foolery surrounding unfounded allegations that Planned Parenthood has been illegally selling fetal tissue has reached ASININE LOWS, people. (NYT)
  • And it’s helped three state governments reach their ultimate goal of defunding us and further chipping away at women’s reproductive rights. Alabama is the latest. (CNN)
  • Speaking of Ass Backward Alabama, these clowns tried to snatch the parental rights of a pregnant prison inmate to stop her from getting an abortion! What in the hell! (Guardian)
  • With regard to fetal tissue, several organizations agreed to speak with The New York Times about their involvement in obtaining fetal tissue for the purpose of medical research on numerous degenerative diseases, such as leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, and others. (NYT)
  • Scientific and medical research is already beginning to suffer as a result of this fetal tissue non-scandal. Colorado State University officials have suspended the school from acquiring fetal tissue from entities linked to Planned Parenthood until “Congressional investigations are concluded.” (RH Reality Check)
  • Thank you, Salon, for covering the facts of this debacle in a reasonable manner. And exposing the fact that Planned Parenthood has prevented possibly 3 million abortions in 2013 and 2014 by providing affordable or free birth control to those in need. (Salon)
  • Ebony has a magnificent piece on what you absolutely must know about Planned Parenthood and black women. (Ebony)
  • Warren Buffett has funded a birth control revolution on the down low?!? #WhoKnew (Bloomberg)
  • The Economist has quite the chilling piece on how “exceptionally deadly” childbirth is in the United States. Gee, almost seems like women should have a choice about whether or not they want to risk their lives giving birth to a child rather than having it forced upon them, right? (The Economist)
  • The birth control pill has prevented how many instances of cancer in the last decade?! (Time)
  • In case it slipped your mind, our senator, John McCain, is still The Worst. (Phoenix New Times)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • ribbonsThe imbeciles in the state of Kentucky are trying to say that a ban on gay marriage isn’t discriminatory because it bars both gay and straight people from same-sex unions. To me, this is akin to saying you’re going to ban breastfeeding in public places, but you’re going to ban both men and women from breastfeeding, and thus, it’s not discrimination against women! See, magical thinking! No logic necessary!! (ABC News)
  • Arizona Republicans are such big fans of lying that they’ve passed a law that requires doctors to lie to women about abortions being reversible. (The Guardian)
  • Tampons may one day help detect endometrial cancer. (Smithsonian Mag)
  • Why settle for No. 3 when you can strive for No. 1? Apparently, Texas isn’t satisfied having *only* the third highest HIV infection rate in the country, so they’ve cut funding for HIV screenings in favor of abstinence education. Makes all the sense in the world, doesn’t it? #CompassionateConservatism (RH Reality Check)
  • Looks like the fate of Texas will soon be very similar to that of Scott County, Indiana. Planned Parenthood was the county’s sole provider of HIV testing, but the state cut funding and several clinics were forced to close. They’re now suffering an HIV outbreak that its governor has called “an epidemic.” (HuffPo)
  • Speaking of Indiana, their ”religious freedom” bill caused a huge ruckus this week. But instead of just repealing the stupid thing, they’ve “revised it” to ban businesses from denying services to people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. (IndyStar)
  • Wow, so Indiana just keeps on delivering the worst of the worst, don’t they? Purvi Patel has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide and “neglect of a dependent” for having a miscarriage that may have been caused by an abortion pill. She’s not the first woman to face such charges, and these predatory, intrusive laws pretty much guarantee she won’t be the last. (MSNBC)
  • We often hear about what miscarriages cost women emotionally, but what about the financial cost? It’s pretty steep. One woman’s miscarriage cost her tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. (Slate)
  • Maryland has opened an abortion clinic that’s being compared to a “spa.” Naturally, women being able to receive kindness and comfort while undergoing a completely legal medical procedure has some people outraged. (WaPo)
  • The Navajo Nation is being referred to as a “condom desert.” (Al Jazeera America)
  • Hard to express how heartbreaking a read this last piece is — women in abusive relationships suffer in ways many people just can’t fully grasp. They are more likely to contract HIV and less likely to use birth control. And when they do use birth control, it often has to be done via “secret” methods. (Jezebel)