In just the last decade, oral contraceptives, or ‘the pill’, have prevented about 200,000 cases of endometrial (womb) cancer.
Use of the pill, even for just a few years, gives significant long-term protection against womb cancer, and the longer the pill is used the greater the reduction in risk.
Researchers estimate that in the past 50 years about 400,000 cases of endometrial cancer have been prevented by oral contraceptive use in high-income countries, including about 200,000 in the last decade.
“The strong protective effect of oral contraceptives against endometrial cancer, which persists for decades after stopping the pill, means that women who use it when
they are in their 20s or even younger continue to benefit into their 50s and older, when cancer becomes more common,” says Professor Valerie Beral, from
the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Beral says previous research has shown that the pill also protects against ovarian cancer. “People used to worry that the pill might cause cancer, but in the long term the pill reduces the risk of getting cancer.”
Beral and her research team’s findings reveal that every five years of oral contraceptive use reduces the risk of endometrial cancer by about a quarter.
Dr May Aung, the only gynaecologist and obstetrician at Rarotonga Hospital, says women have access to the mini pill and combined pill in the Cook Islands.
However, she says more Cook Islands’ women are turning to reversible long term contraceptive methods instead, like the implants or injection.
“Oral contraceptives can reduce risk of womb and ovarian cancer, but if you have a family history of breast cancer, it can also increase your risk also getting breast cancer.”
Similarly, for smokers and women older than 35, the pill is not recommended because it can increase the risk of stroke and heart attacks, says Aung.