Breast Cancer and Oral Contraceptives

Just another Mini Paper with some interesting information….

For many years, there has always been a great debate over whether the use of oral contraceptives (OC) plays a role in the development of breast cancer. Most researchers have conducted that generally, there is no significant correlation between the two. Recently, a study by Ursin et al. (1998) set to investigate the specifics of oral contraceptive use in breast cancer cases. Their findings were remarkable in that significantly higher incidences of breast cancer were associated with age of starting OCs, length of time of OC use, and length of time between last OC use and cancer development (Ursin et al., 1998). They determined that the greatest numbers of cases were seen in women who had started taking OC only after the age of 18, and specifically between the ages of 20-24 years. Additionally, the highest numbers of breast cancer cases were in women that had used OC for 1-48 months, specifically in 1-11 months, with a significant decline in the number of cases where the women used OC for longer than 48 months. Furthermore, other than the category of cases of women who had last used OC more than 60 months before breast cancer (420 cases), the next greatest numbers of cases of breast cancer were in the women who had last used OC in 0-11 months (Ursin et al., 1998).

These finding suggest that contrary to prior belief, there is some amount of association between oral contraceptives and breast cancer development in women under 40. When looking at the statistics from this study, it is apparent that women who begun their birth control in their early 20’s (ideal child bearing age), appear significantly more at risk than older or younger age groups. There is also the possibility that short-term use is more associated with breast cancer development, because we can see by the numbers that as OC use became more long term, there was significant decline in cases of breast cancer. Finally, we also see that there appears to be a link between women that are or were currently taking OC when they were diagnosed with breast cancer, as opposed to those who had discontinued use in months prior to diagnosis.

This study has a huge impact to health care providers that prescribe oral contraceptives frequently in their practice. Even more significant is to those that are frequently dealing with a younger population. These are important factors to keep in mind when prescribing OCs, and especially using this information to further encourage women using OC to perform monthly self breast exams and breast cancer screenings. Furthermore, these statistics should be especially of concern to women that have a significant family history of breast cancer, and in using better clinical judgments in when to seek alternative methods of contraception for these clients.

Reference:

Ursin G., Ross, R., Sullivan-Halley, J., Hanisch, R., Henderson, B., & Bernstein, L., (1998). Use

of oral contraceptives and risk of breast cancer in young women. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 50(2): 175-184

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