Health

Did You Know the WHO Ranks Birth Control Pill as Carcinogen?

| by Jill Stanek

Perhaps the best-kept secret of modern medicine is the link between oral contraceptives and increased breast cancer risk.

While combined oral contraceptives, better known as The Pill, rank as Group I carcinogens according to a 2005 report released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, doctors continue to routinely prescribe the pill for a variety of conditions, ranging from acne to birth control (American Cancer Society, 2008)....

Combined oral contraceptives are composed of estrogen and progesterone or progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone. Estrogen and progesterone are female sex hormones; estrogen thickens the lining of the uterus, and progesterone/progestin prepares the endometrium for implantation of the egg. (National Cancer Institute, 2006).

The reasoning behind a combination of estrogen and progesterone/progestin is that estrogen given on its own increases the risk of uterine cancer. Taking a combination of the 2 confers protection from uterine cancer but increases breast cancer risk.

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In short, the science behind the increased breast cancer risk stems from 2 primary mechanisms. In both instances, progesterone/progestin becomes a double-edged sword, as it confers protection from increased uterine cancer risk but "gives permission" for estrogen to negatively affect breast DNA.

First, the combination of estrogen plus progesterone/progestin functions as a genotoxin, meaning it directly damages DNA in the breast. Several estrogen metabolites, or breakdown products, including 4-hydroxy-catechol-estrogen quinine, have been proven to function in this manner (Lanfranchi, 2007).

Second, estrogen functions as a mitogen, or cancer promoter, and estrogen promotes cancer in 2 ways. As seen in the graph, it stimulates an explosion of rapid proliferation of cells in breast lobules, causing a greater likelihood of mutations with the increased rate of division.

Additionally, estrogen promotes speedier development of any already-cancerous cells in the breast (Lanfranchi, 2007).

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Why doesn't the American public know about the increased risk? Why is the teenage girl on the pill for acne unaware of the health risks involved? Women deserve better.