Women who take the birth control pill for 10 years have nearly double the normal risk of developing cervical cancer, but the risk begins falling as soon as they stop and returns to near normal within 10 years, according to a study released Thursday.
The study confirms previous research linking the pill with an increased risk of cervical cancer and reveals for the first time that the risk falls after pill use stops, said Dr. Jane Green of the University of Oxford, who led the study reported in the medical journal Lancet.
Previous studies have revealed a slightly increased risk of breast cancer associated with use of the pill. But the increased risk for both forms of cancer is small, Green added, and is “outweighed by reduced risks for ovarian and womb cancer.”
The results should “reassure women that fear of cervical cancer should not be a reason to avoid use of oral contraception,” Dr. Peter Sasieni of the Queen Mary University of London wrote in an editorial accompanying the report.
Green and her colleagues from the International Collaboration of Epidemiological Studies of Cervical Cancer combined results from 24 studies that included more than 52,000 women in 26 countries.
In industrialized countries, they concluded that the overall risk of cervical cancer among women who never have taken the pill is 3.8 cases per 1,000 women. The rate rises to 4.0 per 1,000 in women who took the pill for five years and 4.5 for those who have taken it for 10 years.
For women who are well-screened, Sasieni said, that translates into an additional two cases per 10,000 women.