Two recent studies offered women good news about two birth control methods.
The Pill vs. ovarian cancer
Taking birth control pills for at least 10 years almost halves the risk of ovarian cancer, according to a study of 370,000 women across Europe, in the British Journal of Cancer. The longer the Pill was used, the greater the protection. Leaner women benefited most. Older women who had taken the Pill years earlier continued to benefit, though less so. This confirms previous research. Thus, women at high risk for ovarian cancer because of family history are sometimes advised to take the Pill as a preventive.
Other studies have found that the Pill also cuts the risk of cancer of the uterine lining (endometrium) by half. Plus, it protects against benign fibroid tumors of the uterus, and can be used to treat endometriosis, a painful condition that can affect fertility.
On the downside, the Pill slightly increases the risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. For healthy premenopausal women, this risk is very low. Smokers and women with hypertension, diabetes or other strong risk factors for cardiovascular disease should not use the Pill. Research on its effect on breast cancer has been inconsistent.
IUD vs. cervical cancer
Using an intrauterine device (IUD) helps protect against cervical cancer, according to a recent analysis of 26 studies, reported in the Lancet. After controlling for various health and behavioral factors, researchers found that women using IUDs are about half as likely to develop cervical cancer as nonusers. It’s thought that the device triggers an immune response to HPV (human papillomavirus), the virus that causes the cancer. Previous research also linked IUDs to a reduced risk of endometrial cancer.
IUDs are reliable, inexpensive, impossible to misuse and unlikely to cause complications. However, if you have a history of pelvic inflammatory disease, have a sexually transmitted disease or are at high risk for one, or experience excessive menstrual bleeding, you are not a good candidate.