What is the problem?
Most birth control pills prevent pregnancy with a combination of estrogen and progestin, which are female reproductive hormones. Various pills may contain different types of synthetic hormones at different doses. Generally, doctors prescribe the lowest-dose pill unless a woman has a medical reason for needing a higher dose, such as breakthrough bleeding.
Unfortunately, high doses of estrogen have been linked to higher rates of breast cancer in several studies, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Estrogen normally stimulates a woman’s breast to enlarge and produce milk during pregnancy. When a woman takes estrogen in a birth control pill, it stimulates epithelial cells to proliferate and grow. Every time a cell divides and grows, there is a tiny chance it will make a mistake (mutation) in its DNA that causes the cell to become cancerous.
According to experts from the National Institute of Health (NIH):
“Proliferation of normal cells from exposure to estrogen creates a vulnerability to spontaneous mutations, some of which might represent a first step on the pathway to cancer.”
The risk of breast cancer may be even higher for women with inherited risk-factors, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. About 5-10% of all breast cancers occur in women with these genes.
High-Estrogen Birth Control Pills Linked to Higher Risk of Breast Cancer
In August 2014, researchers published a study in Cancer Research linking the recent use of birth control pills with a 50% increased risk of breast cancer.
These conclusions were based on data from over 1,100 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1990 and 2009. All of the women were between the ages of 20 and 49 years old. They were matched with data from a random sample of 22,000 women of the same age who did not get breast cancer. Click here to read more.
Higher risks were linked to higher doses of estrogen:
- 2.7-fold increased risk of breast cancer for women on high-dose estrogen (50-mcg or more)
- 1.6-fold increased risk of breast cancer for women on moderate-dose estrogen (30-35 mcg)
- 3.1-fold increased risk of breast cancer for women on triphasic combination pills with an average of 0.75-mg of norethindrone
- 2.6-fold increased risk of breast cancer for women on pills with ethynodiol diacetate (Continuin, Femulen, etc.)
- Low-dose estrogen pills were not associated with breast cancer.
- Risk of breast cancer returned to normal one year after discontinuing birth control pill.
What are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
- Lump, nodule, swelling, or hard “marble” felt on the breast
- Swelling or lump in the armpit
- Changes in skin texture on the breast (may look pitted like an orange)
- Unexplained changes in size or shape of breast (indentation, flattening, etc.)
- Nipple pain or tenderness, inversion, rash, or texture changes
- Nipple discharge (may be clear, bloody, or colored)
- And more