Birth Control Pill Safe for Most Women

But Death More Likely Among Birth Control Pill Users Who Smoke

From the WebMD Archives

July 17, 2003 -- Birth control pills don't increase the risk of death from any cause in women except those who smoke, according to a 35-year study.

The research appears in the July 17 issue of The Lancet but quicklypoints out there is one exception to that rule -- a woman taking birth control pills has a greater chance of getting cervical cancer.

Benefits of Birth Control Pill Outweigh the Risks

Researchers followed nearly 17,000 women who used birth control pills, diaphragms, or an intrauterine device between 1968 and 1974. Volunteers were between the ages of 25-39.

By the year 2000, 900 women had died. There was a greater risk of dying from cervical cancer and heart disease (for smokers) among birth control pill users, but researchers say these risks do not outweigh the protection the pill can provide against uterine and ovarian cancers.

Smoking and the Pill Don't Mix

But with smokers, there wasn't good news. Compared with nonsmokers, there was a 25% greater chance of dying from any cause among light smokers -- 14 or fewer cigarettes a day. The news was even worse for heavy smokers (women who smoke at least 15 cigarettes per day). They were twice as likely to die from any cause if they took birth control pills.

Overall, researchers say that the study's findings should be good news for women who may worry about how long they've been on birth control pills.

The results could also have meaning for today's mini-pill users.

"This [study] is reassuring for many older women today. Although the results should not be extrapolated directly to contemporary low-dose pills, they do nonetheless offer considerable encouragement," says Martin Vessey, from the Institute of Health Sciences in Oxford, England, in a news release.

SOURCE: The Lancet, July 17, 2003. News Release, Institute of Health Sciences, England.