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Midlife Women May Be Missing Out on Pill's Benefits

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Still, eight in 10 women don't know that the pill can help prevent ovarian and uterine cancer. One study, the Cancer and Steroid Hormone study, found a decreased risk for ovarian cancer in women who had taken birth control pills for as little as three to six months. In addition, oral contraceptives have been found to lower the risk of colon cancer and reduce a woman's risk of developing osteoporosis by strengthening bones. The data on how they may affect a woman's risk of breast cancer are inconclusive.

Although more than 60% of the women polled said that they thought women needed to take breaks from the pill to give their bodies a rest, the truth is that extended use of low-dose pills is associated with even more preventive health benefits.

That's why 52-year-old Penelope M. Bosarge, RN, plans to stay on the pill until she reaches menopause. When her periods became much heavier at age 35, Bosarge went on low-dose oral contraceptives. After a brief time off of the pills, she decided to go back on them.

"The exciting part is that not only can I manage my bleeding, but I am getting noncontraceptive benefits as well," says Bosarge, who is concerned about developing osteoporosis because her mother has the disease.

Suzanne Trupin, MD, a veteran gynecologist, says she offers oral contraceptives to anyone who is a candidate for them and who needs contraceptive protection, relief from symptoms such as hot flashes, or relief from PMS. 'The pill' is also an option to help women with such conditions as fibroids, endometriosis, and adenomyosis.

Women with a history of ovarian cysts or with polycystic ovary syndrome or similar conditions can also benefit from the pill, Trupin tells WebMD. And women who have risk factors for cardiovascular disease may benefit from low-dose oral contraceptives because of the effects on blood-fat levels.

Trupin says that women with a family history of cancer of the uterus, ovary, and colon might lower their risks by taking oral contraceptives over an extended period. Trupin, who was not involved in the poll, is head of the Women's Health Practice in Champaign, Ill.

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