|Canadians unaware of pill's risk|
by Irina Oroz
Possible link to breast cancer to be confirmed this spring
This spring, the Canadian Cancer Society is expected to reach a decision on their position on the link between oral contraceptives and cancer risks.
Despite research linking the pills to cancer, doctors in Canada are not required by law to notify women of the risk of developing breast cancer. “Women in Canada have as much right to know about the risks as those in the United States,” said student Beth (name withheld).
“I’m not sure why it isn’t required by law,” said Kimberly Burns, Clinical Development Educator at the Women’s Health Centre of the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region.
“Down in the United States, by nature they are … careful about telling patients about all possible adverse and side effects of all drugs because in the U.S. they’re rather sue-happy. In Canada a woman is less likely to sue her doctor 30 years down the road because he prescribed birth control.”
Burns agrees that there is a link between birth control and an increased risk of breast cancer in women.
“Generally the risk of breast cancer in a normal woman is one in nine, which is quite high, but in a woman that has a family history of breast cancer that goes up to one in four. The use of birth control further increases the chance of developing the cancer,” said Burns.
She explained that, “at one time the dose of estrogen in birth control pills was quite high. Because the level of estrogen was so high they [found] that it was increasing the number of instances of breast cancer.”
The makeup of birth control pills has changed dramatically since they were introduced. “Now because the estrogen component of estrogen in birth control pills is so much lower … they are finding that the instances of breast cancer are much lower.”
Even the slight increase in the risk of developing the disease is unnerving to women on the pill. Student Kristen (last name withheld) said, “women should be aware of this. If there is a connection between the pills and breast cancer, I want to know what it is and what my risks are.”
Kristen noted this would be important for young women, “because we may not think to be concerned about stuff like that.”
“I don’t think girls consider any serious health risks because it is so popular.” She admitted she didn’t consider the risks. “That’s why I didn’t consider asking about them,” she said. She believes that most young women have the “it won’t happen to me mentality” when weighing the risks against benefits.
For her the risk didn’t play a factor in her decision to use the contraceptive. “It was in the back of my mind really, not a concern.”
For Beth, the risk of developing cancer is a concern. “It would definitely be something I’d consider before I started to take birth control. There’s so much risk involved that I don’t know if it would be worth it.”
Some doctors believe there is no significant link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer.
Gynecologist Dr. John Thiel said, “there are many recent studies which show that women who begin taking birth control pills after the age of 40 actually decrease their risk of breast cancer.”
Several studies have found birth control pills reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 30 per cent to 50 per cent among women taking birth control pills for at least three years. A European study found that taking the pill reduced the chance of developing colorectal cancer by about 20 per cent.
Burns is cautious to note that “women that do have this familial history may be told not to use birth control and to find another method. As far as taking the birth control pills, just taking the pill will not have any effect on breast cancer if you do not have an immediate family history of breast cancer.” She emphasizes that, “taking birth control in itself is not going to cause breast cancer.”