For nearly 60 years, women have relied on oral birth control, the “pill,” to prevent unwanted pregnancies and currently 11.2 million American women aged 15 to 44 use the pill1. Contraception is the primary reason women take birth control; however, a growing trend is women who use the pill solely for non-contraceptive purposes. In fact, 14% of women currently on the pill cite non-contraceptive purposes as the sole motivation for their use1. In these cases, the purpose of the pill is to improve menstrual pain, facilitate a regular period, and resolve acne1. The relationship between birth control and improved acne is well known and scientifically validated, with three oral contraceptives currently approved by the FDA to treat acne. Many women are already aware of these uses; however, recent research is revealing more and more unanticipated benefits.Side note before we begin
At Buoy Health, we model thousands of diagnoses, allowing us to produce accurate and reliable results. When it comes to modeling diagnoses, odds ratios (OR) often come up and are incredibly helpful in predicting the likelihood of a specific disease by serving as a risk factor. Odds ratios measure the association between an exposure and an outcome compared to the same outcome without the given exposure. If the odds ratio is greater than 1, the outcome is more likely and if it is less than 1, the outcome is less likely. For example, the odds ratio for lung cancer in men and current smoking is 23.6 . This means that for every 23.6 cases diagnosed in smokers, only 1 will be diagnosed in nonsmokers. Now that you’re basically an epidemiologist, let’s go!
The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 22,440 new cases of ovarian cancer in 2017, representing 1.3% of all new cancers in the United States3. A 2013 study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, summarized 55 studies exploring oral contraceptive pills and ovarian cancer found a significant reduction in ovarian cancer. The odds ratio of oral contraceptive ever-users (i.e., currently or previously) vs. never-users was 0.73. That represents a 27% decrease in ovarian cancer just by taking one little pill a day! It gets better - the longer you’ve taken the pill, the even lower the likelihood. Those who’ve taken the pill for over 10 years have a 57% lower risk of this form of cancer4.
The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 135,430 new cases of colorectal cancer in 2017, representing 8% of all new cancers in the United States3. This is a particularly aggressive cancer with only 65% of patients alive within 5 years of diagnosis3. A review of numerous studies representing over 500,000 women found a 14% reduction in the likelihood of colon cancer for ever-users5.
The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 61,380 new cases of endometrial cancer in 2017, representing 3.6% of all new cancers in the United States4. An analysis of over 300,000 found a nearly 50% decrease in endometrial cancer in ever-users vs. never-users.
The benefits of the pill are massive. Less unwanted pregnancies. Clearer skin. Less cramps. More regular periods. Less ovarian cancer. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that the pill does have risks, albeit rare, most notably breast cancer. Current calculations associate an 8% increase in breast cancer in women taking the pill5.
References1. Guttmacher: link
2. International Journal of Cancer: link
3. SEER: link
4. Havrilesky: link
5. Myers: link