WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Taking birth control pills regularly may help prevent women from two forms of cancer even after they’ve stopped using it, according to new research.
Researchers from Oxford University found that taking the pill has prevented 200,000 cases of womb cancer over the last decade in high-income countries, as reported by The Guardian. The study suggests that regular use of birth control pills for 15 years can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by 50 percent.
The research indicates that protection from the pill can last for over 30 years. Lead author Professor Valerie Beral says women in their 70s who took the medication in their youth are still enjoying the benefits.
“There are two conditions where we have this really big effect that is long-lasting,” Beral told The Guardian. “There is an increase in cancer of the breast and cervix, but it is really quite small and they don’t persist.” Meaning that once a woman stops taking the medication, the small increased chance of breast or cervical cancer disappears.
“What it means is that women in their 50s and 60s who took the pill are less likely to get cancer than women who did not, and the longer they have taken it the less likely they are. That is pretty important.”
Beral notes that in addition to pregnancy prevention, people should have awareness toward the pill in terms of cancer protection. She also adds that the findings may not be welcomed by all and that some people almost “don’t want to believe it.”
The study suggests longer use of the pill is related to a longer period of protection from the two forms of cancer. Researchers estimated that 400,000 case of endometrial cancer were prevented from 1965 to 2014. Furthermore, every five years of the oral contraceptive use was linked to a 25 percent reduced risk of the cancer.
Experts from the National Cancer Institute say the next step is determining whether the benefits of taking oral contraceptives balance the potential harms, in addition to deciphering whether the pill could be used solely to prevent cancer.
“Even if the biological mechanisms remain elusive and the existing evidence falls short of wider recommendations for [prescribing the pill to prevent cancer], women need to be more aware of the unintended benefits and the risks of oral contraceptives, so that they can make informed decisions,” the study authors added.