A social media post claims that birth control is a level 1 carcinogen and it causes cancer. We fact-checked and found that the claim was half-true.
What are contraceptive or birth control pills?
Birth control pills or contraceptives are a kind of medicine that generally contain the two hormones estrogen and progesterone that helps block the release of eggs from the ovary or ovulation. Some of them can make specific changes in your cervix and uterus that lower the chance of pregnancy.
Usually, they are taken for a 28-day cycle, with one pill assigned to each day. These pills keep certain hormones elevated in the body, making the chance of getting pregnant less likely.
Does the consumption of birth control always cause cancer?
Not always. The studies done with respect to this are contradictory, and till now, it has not been proven that the consumption of a birth control pill will certainly lead to cancer. Few studies and organizations, such as the Canadian Cancer Society, state that it slightly increases the risk of breast and cervical cancer. However, more research is needed on the duration of contraceptive use and biological underpinnings behind oral contraceptives to clarify and support the given evidence.
It is true that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified Estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives (combined) as Group 1, i.e., it is carcinogenic to humans. But there is a notation present which states that “There is also convincing evidence in humans that these agents confer a protective effect against cancer in the endometrium and ovary.”
Cancer Research UK clearly states that they don’t advise against taking the pill even though it slightly raises the risk of breast cancer because it balances the risk as it prevents more cases of cancer than it causes. It also states that there are other factors that increase the risk more than birth control, such as being overweight or obese. It decreases the risk of the womb and ovarian cancer. On cervical cancer, it further states that there is mixed evidence that the combined pill can slightly increase the risk of cervical cancer.
A study published by the CDC indicates that the chances of developing ovarian and endometrial cancer reduce by half in women who have used oral contraceptives as compared the women who never have. It further states that the use of contraceptives doesn’t appear to increase the risk of breast cancer in women.
The American Cancer Society published on its website, “carcinogens do not cause cancer at all times, under all circumstances.”
There are various agents around us that are commonly used, such as alcohol, tobacco, sun exposure, etc., that have carcinogenic properties. Still, those carcinogenic properties do not necessarily result in a cancer diagnosis. Other factors, such as genetics, duration of exposure, race, ethnicity, etc., play a vital role in increasing cancer susceptibility.
Dr. Sarthak Moharir (MBBS, MD, Radiation Oncology), a consultant radiation oncologist at HCG Cancer Centre in Vadodara, Gujarat, sheds light on this matter and says, “Birth control pills are of different types and compositions. It is true that some types (estrogen+progesterone) of pills increase the risk of developing some cancer like Breast, Uterine, Ovarian, etc., but it is a double-edged sword. These same birth control pills are also used in the management of a lot of other gynecological diseases. So, consult your doctor about which pill is most suitable for you, keeping in mind other things such as your family history and other risk factors for developing a malignancy.”
THIP Media Take: It must be noted that carcinogens do not cause cancer at all times, under all circumstances. There are other factors, such as genes, race, ethnicity, etc., that play a vital role. Therefore, the claim remains half-true until credible evidence is available proving that it always causes cancer.
Disclaimer: Medical Science is an ever evolving field. We strive to keep this page updated. In case you notice any discrepancy in the content, please inform us at [email protected]. You can futher read our Correction Policy here. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website or it's social media channels. Read our Full Disclaimer Here for further information.