Birth Control Pills and Cancer Risk

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Birth Control Pills and Cancer Risk

Topic Overview

Overall cancer risk

Overall, if there is an increase in cancer risks for women taking hormonal birth control, it appears to be very small. Taking the Pill may reduce a woman's risk for most cancers. This benefit for some cancers may last as long as 15 years after a woman stops taking the Pill. But long-term use of the Pill (more than 8 years) may slightly increase a woman's overall risk of cancer.1

Breast cancer risk

Experts disagree about whether or not birth control pills cause breast cancer. In general, studies have shown that birth control pills do not increase the risk of cancer. But some studies have found that the risk for breast cancer may be increased in certain women.2 Talk with your doctor about birth control pills and breast cancer.

Cervical cancer risk

Cervical cancer is caused by infection with a sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). Based on current research, you may be more likely to develop cervical cancer if you use birth control pills and you are HPV-infected. You may also be more likely to become infected if you are exposed to HPV. This may be because long-term use of birth control pills makes the cells of the cervix more vulnerable.3

Ovarian cancer protection

Combination pills reduce the risk of ovarian cancer after 1 year of use. This benefit seems to last for years after stopping the Pill.4

Colon cancer and endometrial cancer protection

Taking combination birth control pills for 1 year or longer lowers the risk of colon cancer and cancer of the uterine lining (endometrial cancer). The longer you take the Pill, the lower your risk of endometrial cancer.5

Related Information



  1. Hannaford PC, et al. (2007). Cancer risk among users of oral contraceptives: Cohort data from the Royal College of General Practitioner’s oral contraception study. BMJ, 335(7621): 651–658.
  2. Stubblefield PG, et al. (2007). Family planning. In JS Berek, ed., Berek and Novak's Gynecology, 14th ed., pp. 247–311. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  3. Petitti DB (2003). Combination estrogen-progestin oral contraceptives. New England Journal of Medicine, 349(15): 1443–1450.
  4. Abramowicz M (2007). Choice of contraceptives. Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 5(64): 101–108.
  5. Nelson A (2007). Combined oral contraceptives. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 19th ed., pp. 193–270. New York: Ardent Media.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised July 6, 2010

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