New findings show that long-term contraceptive use can reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer, even if your lifestyle is less than healthy

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According to a new study, the risk of developing ovarian and endometrial cancers can be significantly reduced by being on birth control pills  and even more so with long-term use.

Published in JAMA Oncology and conducted by researchers from the US Cancer Institute, the study analysed data collected from 100,000 women using birth control pills from 1995 to 2011. It found that women who had used oral contraceptives  for more than 10 years had a 40 per cent reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer. It also found that taking them over a long period of time also reduced the risk of endometrial cancer by 34 per cent.

Even more interestingly though, it also found that women who used the pill and who were obese, didn’t do exercise or most surprisingly, smoked, had among the lowest ovarian cancer rates. Smokers who took the pill cut their risk of developing the disease by 66 per cent and former smokers by 30 per cent. A definitive reason for this wasn’t reached, but researchers theorise that it could be due to the interplay between hormones linked with oral contraceptives and those with tobacco. A study published in the International Journal of Cancer has previously linked smoking to a 77 per cent increased risk of mucinous epithelial ovarian cancer.

The findings don’t necessarily mean though that birth control pills should be regarded as an anti-cancer therapy just yet, but could be worth discussing with your doctor in terms of reducing your risk. “Oral contraceptives are primarily used for preventing pregnancy and managing menstrual cycle symptoms,” says Kara Michels, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at NCI. “Our study indicates that for women with different underlying cancer risks when they are older, their earlier oral contraceptive use is likely still beneficial for cancer prevention. Better understanding of the risks and benefits of these medications may help physicians and their patients make informed decisions about using oral contraceptives.”

While past studies  have also established a link between regular use of the contraceptive pill and a reduced risk of ovarian cancer, the consideration of lifestyle factors here makes for an interesting development. That being said though, the effects of smoking, obesity and/or lack of physical activity increase the chances of developing a whole host of other health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other types of cancer. Oral contraceptives can also carry some serious side-effects  - a point previously highlighted by the American Cancer Society . While they’ve acknowledged that oral contraceptives can decrease the risk of ovarian cancer, especially among women who have used them for five years or more, these risks are worth bearing in mind before choosing to use them.

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