The contraceptive pill has prevented some 200 000 cases of ovarian
cancer and 100 000 deaths from this disease since its introduction
nearly half a century ago, according to a study that will be published in next
Saturday's Lancet medical journal.
Over the next decade, around 30 000 extra cases of ovarian cancer
are likely to be prevented each year because of the pill, it adds.
The figures are extrapolated from an overview of 45 studies in 21
countries involving 23 000 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer and
87 000 who were otherwise healthy.
Far less likely
Women who had been using oral contraceptives were far less likely to
have this form of cancer than counterparts who had not been using the
pill, the review found.
And the longer a woman had been on the pill, the more the risk
Ten years on the pill reduced the risk of ovarian cancer before the
age of 75 by a third, and the risk of death by 30 percent.
The benefit was still perceptible, if somewhat reduced, more than 30
years after the woman stopped taking the pill.
The paper, based on long-term research, sheds light on the long-term
protective advantage of oral contraceptives when it comes to ovarian
Increased risk of other cancers
Other research, though, has found a statistically significant
increased risk of cancer of the breast, cervix or central nervous
system among users of the pill.
Around 120 million women around the world used the pill in 2002, 80
million of them in developing countries, according to figures cited by
the Lancet paper.
It is authored by the Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies
of Ovarian Cancer, sponsored by the British charity Cancer Research UK.
In the 1960s, doses of oestrogen in the pill were typically double
those of the 1980s, when the hormone formulation was slimmed down.
Even so, there was no apparent change in the relative risk of
ovarian cancer among women who used the pill in the 1960s, 1970s and
Over the counter?
In an editorial, the Lancet called for the pill to be made available
over the counter, rather than restricted by a doctor's prescription,
given that, in its view, the benefits for cancer prevention and
reproductive health so outweighed the risks.
"We believe the case is now convincing," the British journal said. – (Sapa-AFP)