Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Birth Control Health Center

Font Size

Contraceptive Pill: Cancer Protection

Strong Protection From Ovarian Cancer Gives the Pill Overall Anticancer Effect
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan 24, 2008 -- Oral contraceptives cut women's risk of ovarian cancer for more than 30 years after they stop taking them -- giving the pill a net anticancer effect.

Each five-year interval of oral contraceptive use cuts a woman's ovarian cancer risk by up to 29%. The longer a woman uses the pill, the lower her risk of ovarian cancer, find Valerie Beral, MD, director of the Cancer Research Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, England, and colleagues.

"We can say the longer women take it, the longer the protection, which lasts 30 years after they stop," Beral tells WebMD. "This does outweigh any other cancer risk from taking the pill. So the net effect is to reduce cancer overall. Women on the pill do not need to worry they are putting themselves at long-term risk of cancer."

It's been known for a long time that oral contraceptives cut a woman's lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. It's also known that the drug increases a woman's risk of breast and cervical cancer while she's on the pill. Now Beral and colleagues have been able to put numbers on these risks.

"In breast and cervical cancer there is increased risk, but these effects disappear and are not persistent after a woman discontinues oral contraceptives," Beral says. "Whereas ovarian cancer protection lasts for decades -- into the ages when this cancer becomes more common for a woman."

Pill's Anticancer Effect 'Definitive'

An astonishing amount of data went into the study. Beral and colleagues combined data from 45 high-quality studies that included detailed data on 23,257 women with ovarian cancer and on 87,303 women without ovarian cancer.

They calculate that over the 50 years oral contraceptives have been on the market, the drugs have prevented at least 200,000 ovarian cancers and prevented 100,000 deaths. Because use of the pill is increasing, they predict that the pill will prevent at least 30,000 cases of ovarian cancer each year for the next several decades.

It's an "unequivocal protective effect," says Eduardo Franco, DrPH, director of the division of cancer epidemiology at Montreal's McGill University. Franco's editorial accompanies the Beral paper in the Jan. 26 issue of The Lancet.

"This study decides once and for all there is a real protective effect against ovarian cancer that is strong and cuts across all demographic groups," Franco tells WebMD.

Today on WebMD

Here's what to expect.
man opening condom wrapper
Do you know the right way to use them?
birth control pills
Here's what to do next.
doctor and patient
His and her options.
Concerned teenage girl
hospital gown
Birth Control Pills Weight Gain
pregnancy test and calendar
contraceptive pills
Young couple looking at each other, serious
woman reading pregnancy test result