Weekly Checkup: Birth Control

Known as a pill that can often decrease menstrual cramps, improve acne, regulate periods and provide protection against anemia – birth control pills are now being touted not only for their ability to prevent pregnancy, but also for their potential to decrease ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is often deadly because symptoms are usually non-existent or mild until the disease has progressed. New studies now show that birth control pills can cut the risk of ovarian cancer in women for an additional 30 years after taking the pill, according to research conducted by a doctor at Oxford University that was published last month.

Dr. John Larsen, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at GW Medical School, said he agrees with the findings of the study.

“The effect is achieved, in part, by preventing ovulation,” Larsen explained in an e-mail.

Dr. Valerie Beral of the Cancer Research Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University in England, led colleagues in combining the data of 110,560 women. She found that every five years a woman takes the oral contraceptive, she is cutting her risk of ovarian cancer by up to 29 percent.

Their findings were published in the Jan. 26 issue of “The Lancet,” a medical journal. According to the study, oral contraceptives have prevented at least 200,000 ovarian cancers and 100,000 deaths.

More than 190,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are reported a year worldwide, according to statistics by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

This study also showed that family history, ethnicity and other factors did not seem to make a large difference in whether the risk of ovarian cancer was reduced.

Freshman Noelle Miesfeld said she began taking birth control to help improve her acne, but does not expect that women her age will be attracted to the oral contraceptive for its ability to prevent ovarian cancer.

Sophomore Cissey Ye shared similar sentiments saying that she thinks women do not worry about ovarian cancer until they reach their 30s or 40s.

“I think in our minds it’s one of those diseases that is not really prevalent among people our age,” Ye said.

Sophomore Jennifer Cohn said that she does not think ovarian cancer is at the forefront of the minds’ of college women.

“It’s not a reason I would take (the pill), but it’s reassuring.”

Leah Carliner contributed to this report.

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