When a woman first begins to take birth control, she is often handed a rather alarming packet detailing the risks of these forms of contraception. While most of us don’t read every line and fully understand that these packets are more about liability than our health, concerns about women’s health risks still linger.
Throughout the years, one risk has stood out among the rest for hormonal birth control users—a heightened risk of breast cancer. It is commonly known that combination birth control, the varieties that include both estrogen and progesterone, can raise a person’s risk of breast cancer. However, recent studies suggest that progestin-only birth control might come with similar risks. We will discuss what this means and how you can assess your risk.
Hormones, Birth Control, and Breast Cancer Risk
Hormones play an important role in every process at work in our bodies, which is why changing hormone levels can have certain effects. Meta-analyses of studies on hormonal birth control have determined that these hormonal options can come with increased risks, like stroke and breast cancer—but that does not mean it is time to stop using birth control.
Let’s explore what we know about the breast cancer risks associated with hormonal birth control.
Combination Birth Control
The idea that hormonal birth control can increase a person’s risk of developing breast cancer is almost entirely based upon estrogen and progesterone combination birth control. Studies have determined an elevated risk while taking combination birth control, with average risk ranges falling between 8-24%. However, the increased risk was lowest among young women, and the risk is known to start decreasing once you stop using these forms of birth control.
Progestin-Only Birth Control
In recent years, progestin-only birth control has become more common and more popular. These forms of birth control can be taken orally, given as a shot, or inserted with an IUD. Until recently, it was unclear what kind of risk might come with these newer forms of birth control.
A recent study, however, has shown that these forms of birth control can come with a slight increase in breast cancer risk. For women between 16 and 35, the increased risk amounted to less than 1% in total. Although risks did increase at higher ages, when compared to existing data, it is likely that these risks would impact very few women.
Assessing Your Personal Risk
Hormonal birth control can increase your risk of breast cancer, but that does not mean it is not the right choice for you. To determine if hormonal birth control is right for your body, it is best to consider your family history. Genetics can play a large role in breast cancer risk, so they should be considered if possible.
While hormonal birth control might come with a slightly elevated risk, the fact is that hormonal birth control is also commonly used to manage a wide range of other medical conditions. For the best outcome, it is always best to discuss any concerns with your doctor to determine if these forms of birth control are better for your health, lifestyle, and choices.
Making Informed Decisions About Your Birth Control
The best way to navigate personal health is always to be as informed as possible. Your body is a unique combination of genetics and your environment, so discuss your family history and lifestyle with your doctor as needed. Learning about your body and working with a doctor can help you to limit your risk and decide if hormonal birth control is the right choice for you.
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