Oral Contraceptives and Breast Cancer – Are They Connected?

Oral Contraceptives and Breast Cancer – Are They Connected?

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to focus on the actual, probable and possible multiple causes behind this U.S. epidemic. Given the recent uproar about the increased cost of contraceptive pills on college campuses, it makes sense to first look at possible links between The Pill and the rising rate of breast cancer in younger women in the U.S..

Fact #1: From 1979 to 1999, the rate of breast cancer for white women under 50, increased by 9.8%; the rate increase for young Black women, was even higher, at 26.4%.

Fact #2: At year-end 2003, the rate of breast cancer in older or post menopausal women dropped a huge and historic 14.7% after 90 million American women, stopped filling their HRT (hormone replacement therapy) prescriptions in 2002, when the National Women’s Health Initiative Study reported a 26% increased risk of developing breast cancer from using HRT.

Since HRT and The Pill both do their work by adding hormones to the body, it seems important to also look at possible links between breast cancer and current oral contraceptive drugs.

A team of researchers, headed by Chris Kahlenborn, a family practitioner in Harrisburg, PA, recently completed a statistical compilation of all published research, examining possible links between older generations of oral contraceptives and breast cancer in women less than 50 years old. The numbers were not good.

Published in the October 2006 Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Dr. Kahlenborn found that all women under 50, using the older generations of oral contraceptives, had a 44 % increased risk of developing breast cancer over women who did not use the Pill. This risk was even greater for women who used the Pill for at least four years prior to their first full term pregnancy. This group of mothers showed a 52% increased risk of developing breast cancer. A single study, conducted in Norway and Sweden in 1989, showed that long-time and current users of the pill, who were currently under 45, had a 144% risk of developing breast cancer, compared with similar women who had never used the Pill.

Unfortunately, the American Cancer Society (ACS), the National Cancer Institute, Susan Komen for the Cure, Avon Foundation and others, have yet to fund research or publish studies that look at possible links between Nuva Ring, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, Yasmin or other popular current-day oral contraceptive drugs and pre-menopausal women who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

When is the last time your physician mentioned that women using oral contraceptives today are flying blind since there are no published studies on how current birth control drugs affect one’s risk of developing breast cancer? In fact, drug company brochures all cite twenty-year-old studies when discussing breast cancer risks and their current oral contraceptive drugs, thus misleading women with their corporate literature.

Why is no one publishing studies about the breast cancer risks within today’s 3 billion dollar U.S. oral contraceptives market? We now have 12 million teenagers and women under 50, using the Pill, many beginning at earlier ages and many remaining on these drugs for longer-than-ever periods of time.

“While people may think of the American Cancer Society as a foremost supporter of research, in 2005 it reported spending less than 10 percent of its nearly billion dollar budget on independent scientific studies,” laments Devra Davis, in her new book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer. Davis, Director of the Center For Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, describes in colorful and painful detail, how the American Cancer Society (ACS), controlled by business interests since 1945, played a leading role in blocking research and overtly misleading the public until the 1970’s on the carcinogenic effects of tobacco. Is the ACS now playing this same role with oral contraceptives?

Until we conduct and publish research that examines possible links between today’s oral contraceptives and our rising rate of breast cancer in women under fifty, it might be good that the cost of the Pill just tripled on college campuses. In fact, all of a sudden, the IUD option is looking far better and safer.

Oral Contraceptives and Breast Cancer – Are They Connected?

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