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

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

Some Birth Control Pills May Up Breast Cancer Risk

High-dose estrogen formulations linked to greater risk in women under 50, experts find

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, July 31, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Birth control pills containing high doses of estrogen, along with some other formulations, may increase the risk of breast cancer in women under 50, new preliminary research suggests.

"There are numerous oral contraceptive formulations," explained lead researcher Elisabeth Beaber, a staff scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. "Some of these formulations increase breast cancer risk while other formulations do not raise risk."

Overall, birth control pill use within the past year was associated with a 50 percent increased risk of breast cancer risk compared with former use or no use of birth control pills, Beaber found.

This study was designed to find a possible link between oral contraceptive use and breast cancer risk in younger women. But, it wasn't designed to prove that birth control pills definitively cause the increased risk. However, the researchers did take into account other factors that increase breast cancer risk, such as family history. In addition, they found that the link was slightly stronger -- though not statistically significant -- for breast cancers termed estrogen-receptor positive. This type of cancer needs estrogen to grow, which might help explain why high-dose estrogen pills elevated risk.

The researchers also found variations in risk among different formulas, with low-dose estrogen pills appearing safest. "Recent use of oral contraceptives containing low-dose estrogen [20 micrograms ethinyl estradiol] did not appear to increase breast cancer risk," Beaber said.

These lower-dose pills account for an increasing number of prescriptions written today, Beaber said.

Which formulations seemed to raise the risk of breast cancer? High-dose estrogen pills -- those containing 50 micrograms ethinyl estradiol or 80 micrograms mestranol -- were associated with nearly a three-fold higher risk of breast cancer, she said. Triphasic combination pills with 0.75 milligrams of norethindrone were linked to more than a three-fold higher risk of breast cancer, according to Beaber.

Pills with ethynodiol diacetate -- a progestin -- appeared to increase the risk of breast 2.6 fold, Beaber said.

Risks seemed lower with moderate-dose estrogen pills -- those with 30 to 35 micrograms of ethinyl estradiol or 50 micrograms mestranol were linked to a 1.6 times higher risk of breast cancer.

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
Ortho Evra Birth Control Patch
contraceptive pills
Young couple looking at each other, serious
woman reading pregnancy test result