Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Contraceptive Pill in the News

A medical study points out that the pill may have saved lives:

The contraceptive pill saves the lives of up to 3,000 women a year in the UK and Europe, according to new medical research.

A number of studies now suggest that the Pill reduces the risk of ovarian cancer significantly. One study, reported in the British Journal of Cancer this week, found a protective effect of up to 50 per cent for Pill users, while another, reported in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, found a similar effect after analysing data on the use of the Pill since its introduction.

According to the studies, women who use the contraceptive pill reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer by more than a third, and the longer they take it for, the greater the protection.

Carlo La Vecchia of the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche in Milan, one of the world's leading experts on cancer, says that ovarian cancer cases have dropped in recent years: "Ovarian cancer incidence and mortality for younger generations have been declining in most developed countries, and the decline has been greatest in countries where oral contraceptive use had spread earlier.''

Although early forms of the Pill have been linked to some health problems, there is increasing evidence that it prevents others. The report says women who used the Pill at some time are 30 per cent less likely to develop the cancer. The protection increases with the length of time a woman takes the Pill by around 5 per cent a year, to about 50 per cent protection for long-term use. The reduced risk was seen in women both with and without a family history or genetic predisposition to ovarian cancer.

"The favourable effect against ovarian cancer risk persists for years after Pill use has ceased, and it is not confined to any particular type of Pill,'' says Dr La Vecchia. "Since the incidence of ovarian cancer is already appreciable in middle age, and survival from the disease is unsatisfactory, the protection of Pill use corresponds to the avoidance of 3,000 to 5,000 ovarian cancer cases, and consequently 2,000 to 3,000 deaths a year in Europe." He added that similar numbers were benefiting from taking the Pill in the US.

I'm not sure if these results are based on simple correlations between the availability of the pill and the incidence of ovarian cancer or if they are actual comparisons between women who have been on the pill and women who have not, but I'd guess it's the latter. If so, the results are important. Ovarian cancer has very high death rates and anything that can reduce those rates is good news.

This should be kept in mind when the next wave of pro-life attacks against the contraceptive pill as an abortifacient starts.