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Some Birth Control Pills May Up Breast Cancer Risk

High-dose estrogen formulations linked to greater risk in women under 50, experts find
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How can a woman tell if she's taking a formulation linked to a higher risk? "The specific doses and types of hormones used in oral contraceptives are included in packaging information," Beaber said.

The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, was published Aug. 1 in the journal Cancer Research.

Beaber stressed that the study results need to be confirmed before any recommendations can be made to women. The results are based on data about recent oral contraceptive use who were diagnosed with breast cancer and nearly 22,000 healthy women who served as the comparison group. The women were all between the ages of 20 and 49.

The researchers used electronic pharmacy records to gather information on prescriptions filled and information on formulas. The study looked at the years 1990 through 2009.

The researchers evaluated the risks of breast cancer in women who had taken birth control pills in the past year compared to former or never users. They then looked at risk with the specific formulas of birth control pills.

The study results suggest that the lower-dose estrogen pills, which became popular in the 1990s, are not a problem, said Dr. Courtney Vito, a breast surgeon and assistant clinical professor of surgical oncology at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, Ca.

While the researchers made a good attempt to answer the question about risks associated with different birth control formulas, ''the study has some flaws that are inherent in this type of study design," Vito said. For instance, they could not control for all factors that could increase breast cancer risk.

And, as the researchers also noted, the duration of time they evaluated was relatively brief.

The best advice for women taking birth control pills? " Talk to your doctor about considering a lower dose estrogen birth control pill that does not have the higher-risk progesterone in it," Vito said.

"Although these results suggest an increased risk of breast cancer, the many established health benefits associated with oral contraceptive use... must also be considered when making individual choices," wrote the study's authors.

The study's authors also pointed out that any potential increased risk likely goes down when a woman stops using birth control pills.

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