Despite the perception that contraceptive pills positively impact women’s lives, a new study by a faculty member in the University of Michigan sheds new light on the safety of using commonly available pills.

Anthropology Prof. Beverly Strassmann recently published a study identifying increased risk of breast cancer in women who use contraceptive pills. Strassmann’s research study detected substantially larger levels of progesterone and estrogen hormones in the bodies of women who use birth control pills, compared to those who do not.

Both hormones are known for stimulating the growth of breast cancers, and some breast cancer patients are duly prescribed hormone therapy to mitigate cancer growth in women’s body cells.

According to Cancer Research UK, the contraceptive pill “slightly increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer”.

“In the UK, about 1 percent of breast cancers in women are due to oral contraceptives,” the study said. “The higher risk starts to drop once a woman stops taking the Pill, and disappears by 10 years.”

Despite the indication that higher risk of breast cancer from contraceptive pills disappears 10 years after a woman stops taking the pill, Strassmann does not neglect the short-term impacts of her study’s findings.

“The breast cancer epidemic in countries like the United States is associated with evolutionarily novel reproductive patterns compared with those of our ancestors over 100 years ago,” she said. “We start menstruating at age 12, on average, instead of age 17 years; we often don’t have children or have them after age 35 years, which delays the maturation of the breast lobules; and we often breastfeed for short time frames, like six months, instead of two or more years.”

In addition, Strassmann also highlighted the impact of breast cancer as a leading cause of death in the world.

“As a result of our modern lifestyles, we are exposed to more hormones from their own ovaries than was the case in our evolutionary past,” she said. “Given that breast cancer risk increases with hormonal exposure, these life style changes have led to the current situation where breast cancer is the most common malignancy and the second leading cause of cancer death in American women.”

According to the National Health Service of the United Kingdom, the risks and benefits of ingesting contraceptive pills remains as an uncertain trade-off.

“The baseline risk of women of a fertile age developing breast cancer is small,” they said. “Unfortunately, there are often no easy answers when weighing up the benefits and risk.”

According to students like Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Tyra Overby, the benefits of taking the contraceptive pill still outweigh the costs, despite Strassmann’s findings.

“I think that the protective effects outweigh the risks,” Overby said. “The pill doesn’t just help ease the stress of contraception, it also helps with women who have really harsh periods and hormonal effects such as bad acne. The findings are concerning, especially because many people in my family have had breast cancer. However, I am not willing to stop taking it. It makes me feel extremely (hormonally) balanced, which helps with my mental and physical health, and that is not something I am willing to give up.”

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