Friday, October 22, 2004

More on the Contraceptive Pill

A new study of 162,000 American women suggests that taking the contraceptive pill, especially early, may have long-term health benefits:

Dr Rahi Victory, the lead researcher, said that overall there was an 8 per cent risk reduction of ever having cardiovascular disease among women who had taken the Pill. "If you use oral contraceptives early on, you're probably going to be protected later in life," he said.
Women on birth control pills also had a 7 per cent lower risk of developing any form of cancer, a small benefit that increased with length of use, Dr Victory said.
Women who took the Pill for four years or more had a 42-per cent lower risk of ovarian cancer and were 30 per cent less likely to develop uterine cancer. No effect was seen on the risk of breast, colon or bladder cancer - but even that was seen as good news because of previous studies suggesting that Pill use made breast cancer more likely.

The benefits were only seen in women who took the pill for at least a year, and the benefits increased the longer the pill was taken. The study subjects were between fifty and seventy years of age, which means that many of them took the early contraceptive pill which was higher in hormones than the current one. This could mean that the current pill will not have equal effects, though it could also mean that even the high hormonal contents of the older pill did not increase breast cancer risk as used to be thought.

I have not seen the original study, but it is a large, randomised trial which is good. Large studies have their own funny statistical problems, of course, but so far this looks quite decent.

It's nice to hear something reassuring from the medical establishment with respect to women's health. This is not such a common event as to deserve no accolades. Now countless women can stop worrying about an increased breast cancer risk from taking the pill.

On the other hand, the results of this study, if verified, will cast a different light to the recent pro-life trend of arguing that the birth control pill causes abortions and that all pro-life physicians and pharmacists should refuse it to women. If the pill also has long-term health benefits, denying the pill will also deny these benefits.