HEALTH

New study links certain birth control pills to breast cancer

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NEW YORK (ABC News) -- In women ages 20-49, using oral contraceptives within the past year appears to be linked to a 50 percent higher risk of breast cancer. This, according to a new study of the potential link between birth control pills and breast cancer development.

Birth control pills and dispenser. (AP file photo)

Researchers looked at more than 1,100 women in this age group with breast cancer and compared them to roughly 22,000 women with similar demographic characteristics who did not have breast cancer. They then compared these women’s use of oral contraceptives within the past year using pharmacy records.

In particular, the increased risk was seen with moderate- to high-dose oral contraceptives. Use of low dose estrogen oral contraceptives did not seem to increase breast cancer risk.

The researchers say this study adds to evidence suggesting that oral contraceptives may act as tumor promoters.

It is important to note, however, that breast cancer risk in the age group studied is very low -- a 20-year-old woman’s risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer by age 50 is only 1.92 percent, according to statistics from the National Cancer Institute. Thus, even if there is a causal relationship between oral contraceptive use and breast cancer risk, the absolute risk in these women remains low.

If you do take birth control pills, there are things you can do right now to lower your associated risk of breast cancer.

"First of all, you want to look at the package of the pill, and look for a low number -- it's either 10 or 20 micrograms of estrogen. Second of all, taking a monophasic pill, where most of the pills in the pack are the same, has been found to be associated with a lower risk of breast cancer," says ABC News Senior Medical Contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton.

"And then there are things that have nothing to do with the pill, that bear remembering because they can lower our risk: watching alcohol consumption and increasing exercise has a powerful protective effect," she adds.

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