Newer Birth Control Pills Also Protect Against Ovarian Cancer
The other theory is that ovarian cancer is related to inflammation in the ovaries. "Every time you ovulate, you create a wound. When you close that wound, you have an inflammatory process, so, in fact, with each ovulation there is a bout of inflammation," Ness says. By preventing ovulation, the pill also prevents the inflammation that ovulation would cause.
Laboratory and animal studies will be needed to test this theory, but Ness says she's a believer. She says her study and others like it are making researchers rethink the causes behind ovarian cancer.
Women with a family history of ovarian cancer are much more likely than those with no such history to develop the disease. Ness says such women definitely should take the pill as a precaution. Another option for women at very high risk of this type of cancer is removal of the ovaries -- but this can double or even triple the risk for heart disease, bone thinning, and other conditions related to the loss of estrogen.
An obstetrician-gynecologist who spoke to WebMD about the study says the findings bear out what many women's health providers have believed for years about the low-dose pill.
"Especially if there is increased risk for ovarian cancer, I would think the results of a study such as this would potentially lead a woman to choose an oral contraceptive over some of the other forms of effective, reversible contraception," says Lee Shulman, MD.
But, Shulman says, the decision about what to do if you are at high risk for ovarian cancer is a highly personal one that women and their doctors must make together. Shulman is a professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and molecular genetics, and director of the division of reproductive genetics, at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Even the drastic step of having the ovaries removed is not a 100% guarantee against cancer, Shulman says. He says women must decide for themselves what is best, but says he would not discourage someone at high risk of the cancer from trying to reduce it by taking the pill instead of having her ovaries removed. Even for women not at high risk of ovarian cancer, taking the pill during the reproductive years may have benefits, he says.