Ovarian cancer involves multiple types of cancers which arise from cells of ovaries. According to the reports of Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ovarian cancer has highest mortality rate compared to other gynecological cancers in United States.
Recent studies suggest that oral contraceptive pills or the birth control pills can considerably reduce the risks of ovarian cancer. Contraceptive pills contain certain amount of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. Both of these hormones interfere with the natural reproductive cycle in women to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
How contraceptive pills work?
The monthly cyclic reproductive cycle is necessary for conceiving. Contraceptive pills not only inhibit this cycle to prevent unwanted pregnancy but also benefit in terms of preventing ovarian cancer in young females. Hormonal contraceptive pills contain a minute amount of estrogen and progestin hormones. Estrogen maintains and regulates the menstrual cycle in females. There is another significant hormone progesterone which ‘maintains’ the uterus and prepare the female reproductive track for pregnancy. Both the estrogen and progesterone works antagonistically. Therefore, the rise in estrogen level in body by using contraceptive pills lowers the progesterone level and prevents pregnancy.
On the other hand, progestin is man-made or synthetic steroid hormone which thickens the lining of uterus and delay the ovulation. Thus, both hormones prevent this cyclic activity or specifically prevent ‘ovulation’ in females. In addition to preventing ovulation, some other event also occurs. For instance, the mucus layer in ovaries is altered to prevent transfer of sperms to ovaries. Also, these pills reduce the diameter of cervix. Some contraceptives work as extended-cycle pills that reduce the normal 13 periods to 4-5 times annually.
For mothers who are breastfeeding their infants and those who experience side effects of these pills can use mini pills. Mini contraceptive pills contain even lesser amount of estrogen hormone. These usually change the mucus lining of uterus to prevent the transfer of sperm.
Studies in support of hypothesis
Study performed in Institute of Applied Health Sciences at University of Aberdeen in United Kingdom supports this statement that taking contraceptive pills can lower the risks of ovarian cancer. This study undertook almost 1.9 million females of age between 15-49 years. The participants were grouped in new user, recent user and former users. The data analysis concluded that women who never used contraceptive pills before were at high risks of developing ovarian cancer.
Further studies and Meta analysis reveal that using contraceptive pills for at least 5 years can reduce the ovarian cancer risks as much as 40%. One important factor is duration of taking contraceptive pills. Clearly, the consecutive and long-term use of contraceptive pills is much effective to lower the cancer risks. The exact mechanism of how contraceptive pills lower the cancer risks is still a point of research. However, medical experts suggest that either the blocking of ovulation is the key to low risks of ovarian cancer. Another possibility is that these contraceptive pills inhibit cellular proliferation in fallopian tube which occurs with each reproductive cycle. The rapid proliferation of cells in ovaries is associated with increase risks of cancerous cells development due to mutations. These hypotheses are still under study. However, many studies do support the statement the contraceptives lower the risks of ovarian cancer.
Another point of consideration is whether these pills are effective in reducing cancer risks in those with familial BRCA gene mutation. BRCA gene is mainly associated with breast cancer and also the ovarian and prostate cancer in females. Those with inherited BRCA gene mutation at even at more risks of developing breast and ovarian cancer at early age.
A study published in International Journal of Cancer, covers the effectiveness of contraceptives in females with BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes mutation. One of the studies performed at women’s college research institute Canada evaluated the BRCA-gene associated ovarian cancer. The researchers reported that hormonal contraceptives can reduce ovarian cancer risks up to 40% in females with BRCA 1 mutation. They also concluded that females with BRCA 1 mutation should start taking contraceptives at age 25 and it must be used for 4-5 years. On the other hand, females with BRCA 2 mutations are advised to take contraceptives for 3 years consecutive.
What are possible side effects of contraceptives?
Many recent researches show that contraceptive pills can reduce the risks of ovarian cancer. However, there are some possible side effects related to these pills. These side effects are:
- · Irregular periods
- · Nausea
- · Headache
- · Mood swings
- · Enlarged breasts
- · Weight gain or sometimes weight loss in young females
These side effects usually occur in first two weeks of using contraceptive pills. If you experience these problems, it’s good to take advice of your gynecologist. In some cases, women may experience stern side effects such as diarrhea, blurry visions, severe leg pain and chest pain.
These side effects occur because of the chemical constitutes of these contraceptive pills. One of these is drospirenone which is considered to cause blood clots formation in veins. These blood clots seem to be the reason of severe leg pain in some female. Moreover, the contraceptives constrain synthetic version of hormones. Therefore, this hormonal change is one possible reason for side effects of contraceptives
Many studies do support the statement or the hypothesis that taking contraceptives reduces the risks of ovarian cancer development in young females. What actual mechanism lays behinds is a topic of debate and intensive research. However, considering that presently available facts and data, we suggest that taking contraceptives is a wise choice. Moreover if you have a family history of ovarian cancer or BRCA gene mutation to be exact, you must consult gynecologists to have a hormonal contraceptive therapy by pills and related methods.
Remember that ovarian cancer is a silent killer and taking precautionary steps is a wise act. Stay aware and try to have a healthy lifestyle to prevent cancer development. Because you matter and you worth it!