Does the contraceptive pill increase cancer risk?

  • Yes, the contraceptive pill (birth control) can slightly increase the risk of breast cancer
  • But it can decrease the risk of ovarian and womb cancer
  • Overall, the protective effects outweigh the risks, but each person's risk will be different. Talk to your doctor if you're thinking about using the contraceptive pill

What is the contraceptive pill?

Oral contraceptives, also known as ‘the pill’, are a common form of birth control in the UK. They prevent pregnancy by changing the levels of hormones in the body. These are the hormones that control the menstrual cycle (periods).

There are two main types:

• The combined pill. This pill contains 2 hormones, oestrogen and progestogen.

• The progestogen-only pill (also called the mini pill or POP). This pill only contains the hormone progesterone.

Read more about the combined pill and the mini-pill on the NHS website. The NHS explains how they work, possible side effects and who can take each type.

 

Should I use the contraceptive pill?

Your doctor can help you to make an informed choice about whether to use the pill. You should think about the risks and benefits, any health conditions you have and what you want to do.

There are many other birth control options available. These include hormonal contraceptives such as the implant, injection, and IUS (hormonal coil). There are also contraceptives that don’t contain hormones, such as the IUD (coil). Speak to your doctor about what could work best for you.

And remember there are other things that can affect your risk of cancer more than the pill. These include smoking or not keeping a healthy weight.

 

Does taking the combined pill increase the risk of breast cancer?

Taking the combined pill will slightly increase the risk of breast cancer compared to people who are not taking it. But it’s important to remember that there are other things that have a bigger effect on breast cancer risk. For example, being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer much more than taking the pill does.

When you stop taking the pill, your breast cancer risk stops increasing. About 10 years after stopping, a person’s risk is no longer affected.

 

Does taking the combined pill increase the risk of cervical cancer?

Taking the combined pill could also slightly increase the risk of cervical cancer, but the evidence for this is mixed.

Research suggests the longer you take the combined pill, the higher the risks. But we need more evidence to fully understand what’s going on.

 

Does the combined pill reduce the risk of ovarian and womb cancers?

Yes. The longer someone takes the combined pill for, the lower the risk of ovarian and womb cancer. This reduced risk remains for years after someone stops taking the pill.

 

Does taking the progestogen-only pill affect cancer risk?

Fewer people use the progestogen-only pill. This makes it more difficult to find out about its effects on cancer risk.

We need more research to know if the progestogen-only pill could slightly increase the risk of breast cancer in a similar way to the combined pill.

The progestogen-only pill could also increase risk of cervical cancer, but we need more evidence to understand if there is a link.

Research has not linked ovarian cancer or womb cancer to progestogen-only products.

 

Asthana, S., Busa, V., Labani, S. Oral contraceptives use and risk of cervical cancer-A systematic review & meta-analysis. Obstretrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 247, 163-175. (2020).

Appleby, P. et al. Cervical cancer and hormonal contraceptives: collaborative reanalysis of individual data for 16,573 women with cervical cancer and 35,509 women without cervical cancer from 24 epidemiological studies. Lancet (London, England) 370, 1609–1621 (2007).

IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Pharmaceuticals. 100A, (2012).

Beral, V., Doll, R., Hermon, C., Peto, R. & Reeves, G. Ovarian cancer and oral contraceptives: collaborative reanalysis of data from 45  epidemiological studies including 23,257 women with ovarian cancer and 87,303 controls. Lancet (London, England) 371, 303–314 (2008).

 

Last updated date

24 March 2021