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Pill Use May Raise Cervical Cancer Risk



Women who take the birth control pill could be increasing their risk of cervical cancer, scientists warned on Friday.

A review of research by scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France and the London-based charity Cancer Research UK shows that the longer women use the pill the greater their chances of developing the disease.

Women who used the pill five years or less had a 10 percent increased risk. Up to nine years pushed it up to 60 percent and a decade or more doubled the risk compared to women who have never taken the Pill.

"This study shows that the use of hormonal contraceptives for long periods of time may increase the risk of cervical cancer," said Dr. Amy Berrington, of Cancer Research UK's unit at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford.

But she added that more research is needed to determine if the risk drops after women stop taking birth control pills.

"The small amount of evidence that was available suggests it might do but we really want to look at this in more detail. That is the next step," Berrington added in a telephone interview.

The researchers hope to have more information about the impact of stopping sometime next year.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide with more than 470,000 new cases each year. If it is diagnosed and treated early survival rates are good.

The sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to the majority of cervical cancer cases. An earlier study found that long-term use of the Pill could quadruple the risk of the cancer in women with HPV.

Berrington said the latest analysis, which was commissioned by the World Health Organization and is reported in The Lancet medical journal, shows a raised risk of cervical cancer regardless of whether a woman has the virus.

Previous research had also shown the Pill may increase the risk of breast cancer but could lower the chances of ovarian cancer.

The researchers did not have information about the type or brand of birth control pills used by the 12,500 women with cervical cancer in the 28 studies analyzed.

German drugmaker Schering AG is the world's largest producer of birth control pills.

"If you look at the whole range of cancers, oral contraceptives are still beneficial since we know they provide protection against ovarian and some other cancers," said Schering spokeswoman Astrid Forster in Berlin.

The charity FPA, Family Planning Association, said the findings contribute to the understanding of the role oral contraceptives may play in the development of cervical cancer.

"The Pill is highly effective in preventing pregnancy and reduces the risk of both cancer of the ovaries and womb. The benefits of using the Pill greatly outweigh the risk for the vast majority of women," its chief executive, Anne Weyman, said in a statement.

Berrington emphasized the importance of regular screening to detect early signs of the disease and said women concerned about the findings should talk to their doctor.


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