Control Pill Can
Increase Breast Cancer Risk
(HealthScoutNews) -- For women who use oral contraceptives comes
a new word of caution today: using the Pill marginally increases
your risk of breast cancer, and the longer you use it, the higher
your risk of disease.
The finding, which echoes the much-debated historical link between
the Pill and breast cancer, was reported on the final day of the
week-long Third Annual European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona.
The conference also heard compelling new research on why some
women with breast cancer can safely avoid chemotherapy, on how
high-tech gene scanners can determine who is really at risk for
this disease, and on a standard surgical tool that is being redeployed
to possibly diagnose breast cancer 10 years before symptoms normally
The study on Pill use was a collaboration among Norwegian, Swedish
and French doctors. They analyzed data from the large Norwegian-Swedish
"Women's Lifestyle and Health Study," which began in
1991 and tracked lifestyles, including Pill use, of women between
the ages of 30 and 49.
The researchers followed the women for almost 10 years, during
which time 1,008 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed.
For those women who reported any Pill use, the risk of breast
cancer was about 26 percent higher than for those who didn't use
But for women who used the pill throughout the 10-year study,
the risk shot up to 58 percent higher than non-Pill users, the
The group at highest risk appeared to be those still using the
Pill after age 45. Their risk was almost one and half times --
or 144 percent - that of non-Pill users.
On the other hand, the study also showed that women who used
the Pill before age 20 and then stopped, or who used it only before
their first full-term pregnancy and then stopped, had no increased
The study's author, Dr Merethe Kumle, an epidemiologist from
the Institute of Community Medicine in Tromso, Norway, cautioned
conference participants that the research should not dissuade
most women from using the Pill.
"The total number of deaths from any cause amongst women
who use oral contraceptives is likely to be lower than women who
have never used the Pill, just as we have seen with hormone replacement
therapy," Kumle reported to the conference.
Dr. Loren Wissner Greene, an endocrinologist at New York University
School of Medicine, is quick to agree.
"Even if women who use the Pill do get breast cancer, they
are far more likely to survive than those who don't use the Pill
and get breast cancer," Wissner Greene says, pointing to
studies that have shown women who take birth control pills generally
get a less-virulent form of breast cancer.
In other conference news, doctors from Guys Hospital in London
announced a new breast-cancer detection technique that will soon
undergo its first clinical trial.
The procedure could help detect changes in breast cells up to
10 years before any cancer would appear through a mammogram or
other diagnostic tool.
The process involves the use of a tiny endoscope, a probe no
thicker than a few strands of hair, which is passed through the
nipple into the center of the breast to search the entire area
for signs of tissue abnormalities. If abnormalities are found,
the suspect cells can be removed, and that could help keep the
cancer from ever developing.
Belgium researchers have developed high-tech methods of scanning
thousands of genes at once, which they say enabled them to identify
groups of markers associated with specific types of breast cancer,
as well as the stages of those cancers. Identification of certain
genes, they say, can even help predict breast cancer survival.
In a collaborative effort with doctors from England and the
U.S. National Cancer Institute, the researchers from the Free
University of Brussels used a microchip coded with data on 7,600
genes to analyze the genetic material from 99 breast cancer patients.
By running comparisons, the researchers say they could identify
patterns of activity that might one day help doctors more accurately
identify and stage tumors, as well as predict cancer outcomes.
Finally, a group of American researchers from the University
of Chicago revealed how biochemical markers found in breast cancer
patients can help predict which women may need chemotherapy after
surgery and which may not.
Professor Ruth Heimann told conference participants her team
discovered four such markers in breast cancer tissue samples --
factors that can adequately predict whether a woman's cancer may
"If we have more accurate knowledge of the risk of metastasis
in an individual patient, based on these biomarkers, we could
tailor treatments and give chemotherapy only to the women who
really need it," Heimann reported at the proceedings.
Although the American researchers say they can now accurately
predict women at lowest and highest risk for cancer spreading,
they remain unsure about those in the middle. More study is needed,
they say, before the finding can benefit all breast cancer patients.
What To Do
To learn more about breast cancer, visit The
National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Or to find more on the latest in breast cancer advances, including
the newest clinical trials being conducted in the United States,
National Institutes of Health.
Reference Source 101