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The Pill and Breast Cancer Risk: More Food for Thought

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The study involved multiple generations from more than 400 families with members diagnosed with breast cancer between 1944 and 1952. The follow-up data to track additional breast cancer cases was done between 1991 and 1996.

Doctors say the study is important, but urge caution in interpreting the results.

"The breast cancer risk associated with [the pill] is bad news for women with a family history of breast cancer, particularly for those at very high risk," writes Wylie Burke, MD, in an editorial accompanying the study.

But Burke, of the University of Washington in Seattle, says many things must still be determined, including whether women with certain genes are at highest risk and should not take the pill. Not all women with a family history have one of the two recognized breast cancer genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Burke says it is impossible to know from the study whether only women carrying the genes are at risk from the pill or whether the increased risk applies to all women with a family history.

Another expert, Sofia Merajver, MD, PhD, of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, tells WebMD that the findings are unlikely to change how doctors currently counsel women at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

"As I interpret it today, it does not change my practice for present-day women that come from families where there is a lot of ovarian cancer who are very young and seeking effective [birth control]," Merajver says.

While the study is important, she says more studies are needed, particularly to see if any increased risk associated with taking the pill goes away when women stop taking it. At the very least, she says doctors and high-risk patients should talk about these new findings when deciding on birth control.

 

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