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: Depo-Provera Injections, Another Progestin-Only Option

Progestin-only birth control pills (POPs), also called the mini-pill, are good options for those who cannot take estrogen. But for those who have lots of trouble remembering to take a pill every day at the same time, Depo-Provera shots may be the way to go. Depo-Provera is medroxyprogesterone, a hormone similar to progesterone. It is given as a shot in a doctor’s office or a health center such as Planned Parenthood, and lasts for three months to prevent pregnancy. Sometimes it is used to treat other conditions, like endometriosis.


One Depo-Provera shot lasts for three months.


The first shot is given five days after you start your period or, if you do not plan to breastfeed, in the first five days after giving birth. You must not be pregnant when you get the shot because its effects may damage the developing fetus. But it’s OK to use Depo-Provera when breastfeeding, as long as you wait six weeks after giving birth before getting the shot. It’s given in your buttock or upper arm. You need to use a backup method like a condom for seven days after getting your first shot. And if you miss getting your regular 12-week injection by only a few days, you may need to get a pregnancy test before getting your next shot.

While you are on Depo shots, your period may change. You may have spotting, bleeding, or even no bleeding. Fifty percent of people who have been on Depo-Provera for one year have no bleeding at all. After stopping the shots, menstrual bleeding returns. Also, after stopping the shots, it may take nine to 10 months to get pregnant. Continue reading