Contraceptive pill does not increase risk of early death

In collaboration with Adfero

Women who are taking or have taken the contraceptive pill in their lifetimes are not at an increased risk of death, Scottish researchers say. In fact, the pill may help to prolong life.

According to a study by scientists at the University of Aberdeen, women who have taken the oral contraceptive pill are less likely to die from any disease, including all cancers, than those who have never taken it.

The report, published online in the British Medical Journal, was compiled after 40 years of monitoring the 46,000 women recruited in 1968 to take part in the Royal College of General Practitioners' (RCGP) Oral Contraception Study.

It found that despite a slightly higher rate of death in younger oral contraceptive users, a lower death rate was seen in older women. This protective effect outweighs the smaller risks for younger users.

There were 20 more deaths per 100,000 women aged under 30 and four more deaths per 100,000 in the 30 to 39 age group.

But in women aged over 70, there were 308 fewer deaths per 100,000 and 122 fewer per 100,000 in 60 to 69-year-old. Researchers also found 86 fewer deaths per 100,000 in 50 to 59-year-olds and 14 fewer deaths per 100,000 in females aged 40 to 49.

Initial results of the Oral Contraception Study had indicated that use of the contraceptive pill could increase the overall risk of early death, mainly due to strokes or other related problems among older women or those who smoked.

The results showed a 12 per cent lower death rate from any cause, including serious conditions such as heart disease and cancers including bowel, womb and ovarian, in women who have taken the pill compared to those who haven't.

"Many women, especially those who used the first generation of oral contraceptives many years ago, are likely to be reassured by our results," lead researcher Professor Philip Hannaford from the University of Aberdeen said of the latest analysis.

But he cautioned that the findings may not apply to women taking the pill today, as the ingredients - and therefore the associated risks - may have changed. But it's likely that the benefits will still apply to the current generation of contraceptive pills.

References

  • Hannaford, P., Iversen, L., Macfarlane, T., Elliott, A., Angus, V., & Lee, A. (2010). Mortality among contraceptive pill users: cohort evidence from Royal College of General Practitioners' Oral Contraception Study BMJ, 340 (mar11 1) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c927