The Pill Could Actually Help Prevent Cancer

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
We're used to seeing scary headlines about how the pill might be increasing our risks for brain and breast cancers. But a new study provides strong evidence that birth control could help prevent a certain form of the disease. The study, published earlier this week in The Lancet Oncology, analyzed 36 previously published studies. These included data from 27,276 women with endometrial cancer (which mainly affects women over the age of 45) as well as 115,743 control participants over 50 years. Although most of the studies were conducted in Europe and North America, several of them were from South Africa, Asia, and Australia. Overall, there were fewer cases of endometrial cancer among women who had used the pill. The risk of developing endometrial cancer went down the longer women had been using the pill; it was cut in half after 10-15 years of use. The results also suggest that this benefit lasts for at least 30 years after women have stopped using the pill. So if you took it when you were younger, even if you're not on it anymore, you'll still have a lower risk for endometrial cancer. Many previous studies have suggested this potential benefit, but this study puts it into clear, staggering numbers: "Oral contraceptives have, over the past 50 years, already prevented a total of about 400,000 endometrial cancers before the age of 75 years, including 200,000 in the past decade," the study authors conclude. It's estimated that about 10,000 women will die of endometrial cancer this year in the U.S. Like anything in medicine, the pill comes with both potential risks and benefits. While we tend to hear mostly about the former, this study reminds us that the benefits can be just as significant as the risks are scary.

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