About "the Pill"
The combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP), often referred to as the birth-control pill or simply "the pill", is a birth control method that includes a combination of sysnthtic hormones, an estrogen (oestrogen) and a progestin (progestogen). When taken by mouth every day, oral contraceptive pills inhibit female fertility.
Oral contraceptive pills are currently used by more than 100 million women worldwide and by almost 12 million women in the United States.Oral contraceptive pills were first approved for contraceptive use in the United States in 1960, and are a very popular form of birth control. Many people have concerned about birth control use and the potential for causing in increase in various diseases and conditions, including several types of cancers.
The Royal College of General Practitioners’ (RCGP) Oral Contraception Study
British researchers observed more than 46,000 women for nearly four decades from 1968. They compared the number of deaths in women on the pill to those who never took the pill.
In the study, women on the pill generally took it for almost four years. Experts concluded the birth control pill reduced the women's risk of dying from bowel cancer by 38 percent and from any other diseases by about 12 percent.
While slightly higher death rates were found among women under 30 on the pill, this reversed by age 50.
Doctors aren't sure exactly why the pill may lower death rates. The pill contains synthetic hormones to suppress ovulation, which may have some role in preventing certain diseases and conditions.
Previous studies have found the pill does not raise the risk of dying. The pill also may protect against ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer, but slightly increase the chances of breast cancer and cervical cancer. It may also be that women on the pill are somehow healthier than those that aren't.
Because the study only observed women on the pill compared with those who weren't, researchers weren't able to make any hypotheses about cause and effect.
"In the longer term, the health benefits of the contraceptive pill outweigh any risks," Richard Anderson, a gynecologist at the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement. Anderson was not connected to the BMJ study.
But Anderson said the findings might not be projected to women using modern contraceptive pills, which may have a different risks than earlier birth control pills. The risks may also be higher depending on when women start taking the pill and how long they are on the pill.
"Many women, especially those who used the first generation of oral contraceptives many years ago, are likely to be reassured by our results," Philip Hannaford of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, the study's lead researcher, said in a statement.
Hannaford and colleagues said the pill's risks and benefits may vary worldwide, depending on how it is used and each patient's health risks.
Source: BMJ 2010;340:c927