A hormone specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital who deals with contraceptive issues says the study shouldn't alarm those taking oral contraceptives.
The study was conducted by a group of scientists from Denmark who followed 1.8 million Danish women for over 10 years. However, in practice the picture is far more complex. The results, however, showed that for every 100,000 women, the use of a hormone contraceptive causes an additional 13 cases of breast cancer each year.
Despite the risk, women will continue to use the pharmaceuticals, Morch said.
Third-generation contraceptive pills are displayed on January 2, 2013, in Lille, in northern France.
Those dangers are somewhat offset by reduced risks of cancer - of the ovaries, endometrium, and digestive system - that other studies have linked to birth control pills, according to David Hunter, an Oxford University epidemiologist who wrote a commentary on the study. Relative to the increased risk posed by other environmental factors, like smoking for lung cancer-that's about a 10 times greater risk-and having a human papillomavirus infection for cervical cancer-that may increase risk about 50 or 60 times-38 percent really isn't that much. "It's not like you don't have a choice", she said.
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Though the older oral contraceptives were known to increase the risk of breast cancer, many doctors and patients had assumed the newer generation of pills on the market today were safer.
Overall, there was one extra case of breast cancer for every 7,600 women using hormonal contraception for a year. But by the time a woman reaches 40, her probability of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years is 1.45 per cent, or 1 in 69.
The paper did not make any note of whether birth control impacted mortality from breast cancer, Leath noted.
It's always been known that hormonal contraception, like any medicine, carries some risks. "[Contraceptives] also brings benefits, and we should not forget them". So this tells us that things haven't changed. Yet the new study found increased risks that were similar in magnitude to the heightened risks reported in earlier studies based on birth control pills used in the 1980s and earlier, Hunter said. Unintended pregnancies cost the USA government $21 billion in 2010, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute.
For now, Morch said, even with the newer pharmaceuticals, women whose families have a strong history of breast cancer or heart disease may want to consider using other methods of birth control, such as employing condoms or spermicidal devices. "As with any medical intervention, hormonal contraception is associated with specific health risks".
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There are also numerous potential health benefits of hormonal contraceptives beyond preventing pregnancy, including decreasing the risk of endometrial, ovarian and colorectal cancers, as well as helping with menstrual cycle regularity, migraines and acne.
Now a big study from Denmark suggests the elevated risk of getting breast cancer - while still very small for women in their teens, 20s and 30s - holds true for these low-dose methods, too.
"This is an important study because we had no idea how the modern day pills compared to the old-fashioned pills in terms of breast cancer risk, and we didn't know anything about IUDs", said Dr Marisa Weiss, an oncologist who founded the website breastcancer.org and was not involved in the study.
MORCH: So it has to be balanced - the pros and cons of these contraceptives.
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