birth control pills

Recent research has suggested ties between pancreatic cancer and the use of birth control pills. Danish researchers Butt and colleagues investigate whether this is the case.

Pancreatic cancer is rare but extremely lethal. Pancreatic tissues display sex-hormone receptors, and both estrogen and progesterone appear to inhibit pancreatic tumor growth. These hormones are the main components of many hormonal contraceptives, taken primarily to prevent pregnancy, which leads to the possibility that birth control pills are affecting rates of pancreatic cancer in women. Most studies suggest no links between oral contraceptives and pancreatic tumors, but one study, in particular, found a 72% increase in risk.

A new study published in PLOS ONE by Danish researchers Butt and colleagues investigated whether birth control pills affect the incidence of pancreatic tumors. The researchers used data from several Danish data registers that included cancer incidence, age, and other information, and accumulated a total of 12.9 million person-years (the number of people multiplied by the number of years per person) of hormonal contraceptive use in premenopausal women between the ages of 15 and 49. Only 235 pancreatic cancers were reported for this cohort.

The researchers found no links between pancreatic tumor incidence and the use of birth control pills, regardless of how long hormonal contraceptives were used. This was the case after adjustment for smoking, BMI, educational attainment, and conditions affecting the reproductive system.

Butt and colleagues were able to collate a substantial amount of data to show that there are no links between pancreatic cancers and birth control pills. However, more detailed data on diet and alcohol consumption was not available. Importantly, this study suggests that the risk of pancreatic cancer is not an important factor when considering an appropriate birth control method, and the birth control pill works without significant risk of this disease.

Written by C.I. Villamil

Reference: Butt et al. 2018. Hormonal contraceptive use and risk of pancreatic cancer—a cohort study among premenopausal women. PLOS ONE 13(1):e0206358.

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