Does the contraceptive pill increase risk of cancer?

  • The contraceptive pill slightly increases the risk of breast cancer. But it decreases the risk of ovarian cancer and womb cancer.
  • The contraceptive pill is an effective method of preventing pregnancy (birth control). Your doctor can prescribe the pill and help you make an informed choice about what is right for you. 
  • Remember, there are other things that can affect your risk of cancer more than the pill.  

What is the contraceptive pill?

The contraceptive pill is also known as ‘the pill’. It is a common form of birth control in the UK.  

The contraceptive pill is taken by mouth to prevent pregnancy. Hormones in the body control the menstrual cycle (periods). The pill prevents pregnancy by changing the levels of these hormones.  

There are two main types of contraceptive pill, which you can read more about on the NHS website: 

  • The combined pill. This pill contains 2 hormones; oestrogen and progestogen.
  • The mini pill (also called the progestogen-only pill or POP). This pill only contains progestogen. 

There are other types of hormonal contraceptives available. There is little evidence on these and the risk of cancer. Your GP can give you more information about the different types of contraception.  

 

Does the combined pill increase the risk of cancer?

  • Breast cancer: taking the combined pill slightly increases the risk of breast cancer compared to people who do not take it. Ten years after stopping the pill, a person’s risk is no longer increased – as if the pill was never used. 
  • Cervical cancer: taking the combined pill may be linked with a slight increased risk of cervical cancer compared to people who do not take it. The increased risk may be bigger the longer the combined pill is used. Ten years after stopping the pill, a person’s risk is no longer increased – as if the pill was never used.
    The evidence linking cervical cancer to the combined pill is not as good as the evidence for breast cancer and the combined pill. We need more research on the combined pill and cervical cancer to be confident it increases risk.
  • Ovarian cancer: taking the combined pill can lower the risk of ovarian cancer. This reduced risk stays when people stop taking the pill. 
  • Endometrial (womb) cancer: taking the combined pill can lower the risk of womb cancer. This reduced risk stays when people stop taking the pill. 

     

We need more research on the combined pill and the risk of any other cancer types.  

 

Does the mini pill increase the risk of cancer?

We know less about the mini pill than the combined pill as there have been fewer scientific studies on the mini pill and cancer. In the last 10 years, the number of people using the mini pill has increased, so we are starting to see more research on how it affects the risk of cancer.  

  • Breast cancer: taking the mini pill slightly increases the risk of breast cancer. When the mini pill is stopped, the increased risk starts to go back down. This is similar to what we see with the combined pill. 
     
  • Cervical cancer: we need more research to know if the mini pill slightly increases the risk of cervical cancer.  
     
  • Endometrial (womb) cancer: some very small studies suggest the mini pill decreases the risk of endometrial cancer, like the combined pill does. But we need more research to be able to say this. 

     

We need more research on the mini pill and the risk of any other cancer types. 

 

Should I use the contraceptive pill? 

There are many different types of contraception available. Your doctor can help you make an informed choice about what is right for you and whether to use the pill. Think about whether all the benefits of the pill outweigh the risks. These are different for each person. You can speak to your doctor about the pill and the risk of cancer.  

It’s important to remember there are other things that affect your risk of cancer more than the pill. You can reduce your risk of cancer by:

  • stopping smoking,
  • keeping a healthy weight,
  • drinking less alcohol.

 

There is less evidence available on other types of hormonal contraceptives and cancer risk. Hormonal contraceptives include the implant, injection, patch, and intrauterine system (IUS). Some studies suggest the injection and IUSs may increase the risk of breast cancer. More research on these forms of contraception is needed.

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).

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).

Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies on Endometrial Cancer. Endometrial cancer and oral contraceptives: an individual participant meta-analysis of 27,276 women with endometrial cancer from 36 epidemiological studies. Lancet Oncology, 16(9):1061-1070. (2015)

 

Last reviewed

27 March 2023

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