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Contraceptives lower ovarian cancer risk

Birth control pills have long been known to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, but recent research suggests that any type of contraceptive - even, surprisingly, vasectomy - may also be protective.

Contraceptives lower ovarian cancer risk

Birth control pills have long been known to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, but recent research suggests that any type of contraceptive - even, surprisingly, vasectomy - may also be protective.

Since some forms of contraception are associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer, researchers set out to see whether all types had any impact on the future risk of disease. They interviewed 869 women who had developed ovarian cancer, and 1779 others who had not developed the disease, in America about their history of contraception. Women were considered to use no artificial contraception if they relied on natural family planning (avoiding sex during the fertile period in mid-cycle) or withdrawal.

After comparing women with ovarian cancer to those without, researchers found that women who used any type of contraception - birth control pills, tubal ligation (getting your tubes tied), intrauterine devices (IUDs), barrier method (such as diaphragms) or male vasectomy - had between a 40 and 65 percent lower risk of ever developing ovarian cancer.

It was found that women who had gotten their tubes tied or taken birth control pills in the past, either for contraception or other reasons, had a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. But strangely, so were women who used an IUD. Specifically, women who developed ovarian cancer were less likely to have ever used an IUD - among those with cancer, only 12 percent had ever used an IUD, versus 17 percent of women who did not develop the cancer.

Similarly, 14 percent of those with ovarian cancer had a partner who had undergone a vasectomy, but so did 17 percent of the women who never developed ovarian cancer. After using statistical tools to remove the influence of factors that could affect the relationship between contraception and cancer, the researchers found that relying on a vasectomy or IUD lowered women's risks of ovarian cancer by 50 and 60 percent, respectively, relative to women with no history of artificial contraception.

Women who have given birth to children also have a low risk of ovarian cancer, however, and when the authors factored in the influence of pregnancies, they saw a much weaker relationship between vasectomy, IUDs and the barrier method. It's not surprising that the relationship got weaker since dividing women by both pregnancies and contraceptive history made each category very small. It was hard to believe that vasectomy was associated with lower ovarian cancer risk, because it happens in the man. Alternatively, there could be some important differences in the lifestyles of couples who choose vasectomy that in turn lower women's cancer risk.

What's consistent across research is the relationship between ovarian cancer and birth control pills, suggesting that a woman deciding on contraception should consider the pill's impact on her reducing the future risk of this cancer.
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