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class="post-4277 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-denise-hunnell category-life tag-breast-cancer tag-cancer-research tag-contraceptives" id="post-4277">
Aug
5
2014

Link between breast cancer and contraceptives, too big to ignore

By Denise Hunnell, M.D.

An article in the most recent issue of the medical journal Cancer Research details yet another study demonstrating a link between breast cancer in young women and the use of oral contraceptives. The authors point out that their study is unique because it relies on electronic pharmacy records, instead of just self-reporting, to accurately verify contraceptive use. In addition, they look at the various formulations of hormonal contraceptives to elucidate variances in risk dependent upon which contraceptive is used. They looked at the contraceptive use of 1,100 women between the ages of 20 and 49 who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and compared them to a control group of nearly 22,000 women.

What they found was that there was an overall 50% increase in the risk of breast cancer in women who had used any oral contraceptive in the last year. This risk was independent of family history. They also identified specific risks associated with the different contraceptive formulations, noting that the larger the estrogen component of the contraceptive, the greater the increased risk. Moderate strength estrogen contraceptives increased the risk of breast cancer by 1.6 fold. High dose estrogen contraceptives increased the risk of breast cancer by 2.7 fold. The use of the popular triphasic oral contraceptives that are supposed to more closely mimic the body’s natural hormonal variations actually more than tripled the breast cancer risk. The progestin component of oral contraceptives also contributed to the breast cancer risk with the increased risk varying from 1.5 fold to 3 fold, depending on which progestin is used.

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer in women between the ages of 20 and 49 is very different than breast cancer in post-menopausal women. Younger women usually have a more aggressive form of breast cancer that is less responsive to therapy. Therefore, anything that increases the risk of breast cancer in younger women will increase the number of women who die from breast cancer. Urging young women to avoid hormonal contraceptives seems to be a reasonable step to fight this disease.

Therefore, it is surprising to hear the lead investigator of this study downplaying the significance of their findings. Dr. Elisabeth Beaber of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington states, “Given that these results have not yet been replicated and the importance of assessing both the benefits and risks of oral contraceptive use, we cannot make any clinical recommendations based on results from this single study.” As she clearly pointed out in her article, this is not the only study that has found a relationship between oral contraceptive use and breast cancer. Her study collected the data on contraceptive use more accurately than previous studies and still found the risk of breast cancer significantly increased in oral contraceptive users. What benefits could possibly outweigh this risk? Decreased acne? Less menstrual cramping? Lighter periods?

Some will be quick to point out the possibility of decreased risk for ovarian cancer as a compensatory benefit of oral contraceptive use. The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is 1 in 10. The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer is about 1 in 72. Therefore, to suggest that the decreased risk of ovarian cancer with oral contraceptives balances the increased risk of breast cancer is like saying you will double or triple your risk of being involved in an automobile crash in order to decrease your risk of being involved in a train accident. It just doesn’t make sense.

There is a great deal of political pressure to avoid condemning oral contraceptives. The lobbying to make hormonal contraceptives a mandated benefit of the Affordable Care Act and the reticence to allow religious exemptions to this mandate are evidence of the power of contraception advocates. Too many women erroneously believe they cannot be successful unless they render themselves sterile. It is the purveyors of this myth who are waging the real war on women. The lives of young women are being sacrificed because of this radical feminist ideology. It is time for medical professionals to speak clearly and without apology about the dangers of hormonal contraception.

Dr. Denise Jackson Hunnell is a Fellow of Human Life International. She graduated from Rice University with a BA in biochemistry and psychology. She earned her medical degree from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. She went on to complete a residency in family medicine at Marquette General Hospital, Marquette, Michigan. Upon completion of her training, Dr. Hunnell served as a family physician in the United States Air Force. She was honorably discharged. She continued to practice medicine all over the country as her husband’s Air Force career kept them on the move. In order to better care for her family, Dr. Hunnell retired from active clinical practice and focused her professional efforts on writing and teaching. She has contributed work to local and national Catholic publications as well as to secular newspapers including the Washington Post and the Washington Times. She also teaches anatomy and physiology at Northern Virginia Community College Woodbridge Campus. Dr. Hunnell serves as an elected member of the Board of Directors for the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. Other affiliations include the American Academy of Family Physicians, The Catholic Medical Association, and the National Catholic Bioethics Center. She received her certification in health care ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center in 2009. Dr. Hunnell has been married for nearly thirty years to Colonel (ret) John F. Hunnell, an Air Force test pilot. They have four children and are blessed with three grandchildren so far.
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