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Now, we have heard quite a lot about cancer, but what is it exactly? 

To put it simply, cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Old cells do not die. They continue to grow and may form a mass of tissues called a tumour. In Malaysia, breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women, followed by cervical cancer. Other types of cancers that affect women are ovarian, colorectal and endometrial cancer, sometimes called cancer of the endometrium lining.

 A question often asked by those who are considering taking oral contraceptives (OCs) for the first time is, “Will it give me cancer?”. They may have been told by their friends or relatives that taking these hormone pills would “burden” their bodies, hence increasing their chances of developing cancer. However, studies have found the opposite to be true in most cases.

Women who took combined oral contraceptives for at least 12 months were found to have some reduced risk of developing endometrial cancer compared to those who had never taken OCs. This means that taking the pill for 12 months continuously offers a protective effect from developing endometrial cancer. The studies found the protective effect lasted for at least 15 years, even after a woman had stopped taking OCs. 

 On top of this, combined OCs reduce the risk of ovarian cancer in women. The longer a woman uses oral contraceptives, the more significant is her reduction in risk of getting ovarian cancer. Studies showed that this risk reduction persisted for more than 30 years, even after a woman stopped taking OCs. 

Studies also found that women who took OCs may be protected from developing colorectal cancer by a small percentage. 

So what are the risks of getting breast cancer from taking OCs? Various studies conducted worldwide found that taking OCs cause a slight increase or no effect on breast cancer risk.

 To put things into perspective, although studies may show an increase in breast cancer risk, taking OCs as part of family planning would be beneficial for most women due to the protective effect against the other cancers. Studies have found that if you frequently take OCs, stop for more than four weeks, and then start again, it increases your risk of developing blood clots in your veins. If you are new to the pill and have any cancer risk concerns, consult your doctor or pharmacist for a health assessment before starting on any medication.

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References:

  1. https://www.phama.org.my/index.cfm?&menuid=29
  2. Cancer and Steroid Hormone Study of the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Jama 1987;257(6):796–800.
  3. Beral V et al. Lancet 2008;371(9609):303–14.
  4. Bosetti C et al. HumReprod Update 2009;15(5):489–98.
  5. Fernandez E et al. Br J Cancer 2001;84(5):722–7.
  6. Hannaford PC et al. Bmj 2007;335(7621):651.
  7. Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. Lancet 1996;347(9017):1713–27.
  8. Heinemann LAJ et al. Geburtsh Frauenheilk 2002;62(8):750–57.
  9. Kahlenborn C et al. Mayo Clin Proc 2006;81(10):1290–302.
  10. Marchbanks, PA et al. N Engl J Med 2002;346(26):2025–32.
  11. Vessey M, Yeates D. Contraception 2013;88(6):678–83.
  12. Li N et al. Int J Cancer 2011;128(4):927–35.
  13. Dinger J et al. Contraception 2016;93(5):378–85.

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