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

Let’s Talk Contraception: Can I Use Birth Control to Skip a Period?

In 2003, the FDA approved Seasonale, an extended-cycle birth control pill. This pill, a combination of estrogen and progestin, is taken daily for 84 days followed by one week of inactive (placebo) pills, allowing a woman to have her period once every three months — four times per year.

Since that time, several other extended-cycle birth control pills have been marketed, including Lybrel, released in 2007, which offers women continuous contraception coverage with only one period per year.


Using birth control to skip periods doesn’t result in side effects quite this exaggerated.

Prior to Seasonale’s debut, certain types of birth control pills could be taken back to back, allowing users to have period-free weddings and honeymoons, or to treat certain conditions, such as endometriosis. But there was no consensus about how to use birth control pills this way, and no actual product marketed specifically for this type of use. Early studies on extended-cycle pills reported that users were highly satisfied using pills to have fewer periods — and wanted to continue using these pills to reduce periods after the study was completed.

Can skipping periods be beneficial or harmful? Is this a lifestyle choice that’s not “natural”? How many “normal” periods do you need in a lifetime? Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: NuvaRing, Another Contraceptive Choice

Would you like an alternative to a daily pill for contraception? NuvaRing is a flexible vaginal ring containing a combination of two hormones used to prevent pregnancy: a progestin and an estrogen. It is placed inside the vagina where it releases a continuous small dose of these hormones, and is left in place for three weeks. Then you remove it and wait one week, during which you usually will have your period. After this ring-free week, you insert a new ring.


The vaginal ring is an excellent alternative for people who don’t want to take a daily pill for contraception.


Used properly, it is nearly as effective as oral birth control pills, is easily reversible and frees you from having to remember to take a pill each day. You can use tampons, vaginal yeast medications, and spermicides when wearing the ring, but you should not use a diaphragm because it may not fit properly. In some vaginal conditions, such as a prolapsed (or falling) uterus, you may not be able to use the ring because it might slip out more easily. The NuvaRing can only work when it’s inserted properly in order to release its hormones. Most women report they cannot feel the ring once it’s inserted.

Most of the side effects of the NuvaRing are similar to birth control pills. Cigarette smoking is definitely not recommended because it may increase your risk for strokes or heart attacks, especially if you are older than 35. There have been several reports that the ring may put you at an increased risk for blood clots, and this is still being studied. If you have concerns about this or have a personal or family history of blood clots, heart attacks, or strokes, it’s important to talk with your health care provider before using the ring. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Do Birth Control Pills Cause Blood Clots?

Alarming ads urge you to call a lawyer if you’ve been “injured” taking certain birth control products, such as Yaz, Yasmin, or NuvaRing. These injuries include venous thromboembolisms (VTEs), heart attacks, and strokes. It’s frightening to wonder if you are endangering your health by taking a pill to prevent pregnancy or treat dysmenorrhea (painful cramps).

Should you stop taking your pills? What is a VTE and why should you worry? VTE is a blood clot that usually starts in your leg, but may break loose and travel to your heart or brain and cause a heart attack or stroke. It can be life-threatening, so it is a serious side effect to be concerned about. All birth control pills may increase your risk for a VTE, but it has always been considered so small that most women can safely take the pill. About 3 to 9 women in 10,000 who use birth control pills for more than one year may have a VTE compared to 1 in 5 women out of 10,000 who are not pregnant and not on the pill.


Birth control pills are considered very safe for the majority of women, but all medications carry some risk of adverse effects.


When oral birth control pills were first developed, they contained much higher doses of estrogens and progestins — types of hormones — especially estrogen. It was also noticed that there was a higher risk for developing a blood clot while using birth control pills than in nonpregnant women who didn’t take the pill. It was thought that the high dose of estrogen was responsible for this risk. So, with continuing research and development, eventually the dose of estrogen was decreased to the lower level used today to minimize the chance of a clot. The type of estrogen in pills today is almost exclusively ethinyl estradiol. Continue reading

Endometriosis Treatment

endo medsIt’s still March, so it’s still Endometriosis Awareness Month! Today we’ll be looking at endometriosis treatment questions and answers. If you missed the first two posts in this series, you can click to read more about an overview of endometriosis as well as info about diagnosing endometriosis.


Why are there so many treatment options? Which one is best?

There are so many options because there is no “magic bullet” option — that is, no single treatment that works best for everyone. The two main categories of treatment include medication and surgery, but each option has its own benefits and drawbacks. When deciding on the best option for a given individual, some helpful questions to consider might be:

  • Do I have any current health concerns that would render some treatments unsafe? What types of health risks are acceptable to me?
  • Am I currently trying to conceive, or will I be in the next six to 12 months? Will I ever want to be pregnant in the future?
  • Aside from significant health risks, what types of factors — side effects, treatment frequency or duration, cost — would make a treatment difficult for me? How long do I need this treatment to last before I can reevaluate?

For specific questions, your best bet is to check with your health care provider. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: The Mini-Pill or Progestin-Only Pill

Birth control pills usually contain progestin and estrogen, which are both sex hormones. Progestin-only birth control pills (POPs) are sometimes called the mini-pill because they don’t contain estrogen. If you are concerned about taking estrogens because you have high blood pressure, migraines, heart disease, or a history of blood clots, but still would like to take an oral contraceptive, this may be an option for you. It is also a good choice if you are a new mother and breastfeeding.


Progestin-only pills don’t contain estrogen, making them a good option for some people.


POPs are used in the same way as other birth control pills. They come in packs of 28 pills. You take one pill at the same time each day and after the last pill in the pack is taken, you start a new pack the next day; there is no skipping days. Because there is a slightly greater risk of becoming pregnant on progestin-only pills, you must be very careful to take each pill at the same time each day and never miss a day. If your period is late and you missed one or more pills or took them late, you may need to take a pregnancy test.

The effects of POPs are easily reversible and after stopping these pills your chances of getting pregnant should not be delayed. Continue reading