New research may have found a link between the contraceptive pill and a lower risk of ovarian cancer

New research has potentially uncovered a link between the pill and a lower risk of ovarian cancer [Photo: Getty]
New research has potentially uncovered a link between the pill and a lower risk of ovarian cancer [Photo: Getty]

There’s a lot to factor in when choosing contraception. How easy it is to use, and any negative side effects for a start.

But what about potential positive side effects?

New research has revealed that there could be a link between the modern combined pill and lower levels of ovarian cancer.

The study, by the University of Aberdeen and the University of Copenhagen and published in British Medical Journal (BMJ), looked at data from 1.8 million women between 1995 and 2014.

Overall, 86% of hormonal contraception used by the participants was down to the combined pill, which combines oestrogen and progesterone.

After taking into account factors including, age, number of children, education and a family history of either breast or ovarian cancer, the team found that women who had used hormonal contraception at some point had a 34% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who had not.

Women who were either still taking the pill or had taken it recently saw a 42% reduction in risk, and for those who had taken it previously but had come off of it for a year or more, there was a 24% lower risk of ovarian cancer than those who had never been on it.

This isn’t the first time this particular link has been studied, but unlike previous studies, this research focused on the modern version of the Pill.

“Previous research has found a reduced risk in ovarian cancer in women using the combined pill but this evidence relates to older products,” Dr. Lisa Iversen, lead author of the study told Bustle.

“It is important for women who are currently of reproductive age and using hormonal contraceptives to know whether or not they have a reduced risk of ovarian cancer.”

Though the research is no doubt encouraging, the study does have limitations. For example, the researchers stopped following women when they turned 50, so the impact on women as they got older was not studied.

Also the research so far has just shown a link, rather than causation.

Could the pill lower the risk of ovarian cancer? [Photo: Getty]
Could the pill lower the risk of ovarian cancer? [Photo: Getty]

Ovarian cancer is not the only issue that has been explored when it comes to hormonal contraceptives.

Previous research teams have also studied the existence of a potential link between taking hormonal contraception and depression.

Earlier this year a study found that hormonal birth control may not actually lead to mental health problems, such as depression.

Previous studies had suggested that the opposite could actually be true.

One such study included research from Sweden which revealed that two of the UK’s most commonly used contraceptive pills – Microgynon and Rigevidon – could negatively impact a woman’s wellbeing.

Meanwhile a study by researchers in Denmark in 2016 found that women who took the pill were 23% more likely to use antidepressants.

However it is important to note that the study was not able to effectively prove that the contraceptive method was responsible for the depression.

The same research team from the University of Copenhagen also found that women taking hormonal contraceptives — like birth control pills, the patch, the ring and hormonal IUDs – have up to triple the risk of suicide as women who have never taken hormonal birth control.

But, more recent research has thrown doubts on the link between the pill and depression.

Their findings, published in the journal Contraception, revealed that depression should not necessarily be a major concern for women taking hormonal contraception.

“Depression is a concern for a lot of women when they’re starting hormonal contraception, particularly when they’re using specific types that have progesterone,” study lead author and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, Dr. Brett Worly said in a news release.

“Based on our findings, this side effect shouldn’t be a concern for most women, and they should feel comfortable knowing they’re making a safe choice,” he continued.

In other contraception news recent statistics have revealed 23 million young women who want to use contraception are unable to get it, leading to the death of 5,600 teenage girls – 15 every day – as a result of unintended pregnancy, childbirth or in many cases unsafe abortion.

In order to kickstart a contraception conversation and to mark World Contraception Day earlier this week, Marie Stopes International is releasing a graphic novel No More Fairy Tales which aims to raise awareness about the topic.

Choosing and indeed accessing contraception isn’t always easy. Despite the potential positive link between hormonal contraception and cancer, it is important to understand that every form of birth control comes with its own risks and potential side effects both positive and negative.

With that in mind those seeking to make the right contraceptive choice should talk to their doctor about all of the options.

To help Marie Stopes UK has a guide to all forms of contraception to help you make the right choice for you.

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