Birth control pills linked to breast cancer—a risk that has been known for decades

Recently, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) revealed a small but significant risk of breast cancer with regular hormonal birth control pills. The longer women take them, the higher the risk. Yet, says the FDA about one popular hormone-based birth control pill, “Most studies suggest that the use of oral contraceptives is not associated with an overall increase in the risk of developing breast cancer.”

Since the NEJM revelation, Pharma, the FDA and the medical establishment are collectively pleading “Who Knew” birth control pills were linked to cancer. But the risks have been known for decades. Almost 50 years ago, the breast cancer risks of hormonal birth control pill were exposed by Barbara Seaman in The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill and reiterated in her follow-up book The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women.

Moreover, birth control pill labels clearly warn patients to not take the drug if they have “a history of hormone-related cancer such as breast or uterine cancer” and to “tell your healthcare professional if you have a family history of breast cancer or if you have had breast nodules or an abnormal mammogram.”

Breast cancer links with hormonal birth control pills have been known since 1969 but Pharma has spun the risks to maintain sales. One example is the lie, exposed by the recent NEJM study, that lower doses of hormones equal lower cancer risks––nothing but a supposition and an incorrect one at that. Another example is the Pharma spin that if women use hormonal birth control pills they will be spared other cancers. “The pill provides ‘lifelong protection against some cancers,’” blasts a U.S. National Library of Medicine article––as irresponsible as a headline touting the “weight loss benefits” of cigarette smoking.

Even the New York Times which often takes Pharma to task, assures women that breast cancer-linked hormonal birth control pills are “associated with lower risks of ovarian, endometrial and colorectal cancer.” Are the news media, medical profession, FDA and Pharma really telling women they have to choose between one cancer and another?

Patient information for a popular hormonal birth control pill even tells patients if they get breast cancer, it won’t be as bad a breast cancer. “Breast cancers diagnosed in current or previous OC [oral contraceptive] users tend to be less clinically advanced than in nonusers,” patients are told.

Giving women dangerous hormones is not a new venture for Pharma. Between 1941 and 1971, more than four million pregnant women in the U.S. were given stilbestrol (DES) to prevent miscarriages, a hormone drug so dangerous it is now unapproved to give to women and even banned in food animals.

From the late 1940s until 15 years ago, millions of women were given the drugs Premarin and later, Prempro for the “disease” of menopause. In 1975, an FDA panel found a link between Premarin and endometrial cancer and the NEJM indicted Premarin for increasing the risk of endometrial cancer by at least five times. When women quit Premarin en masse in the 1970s because of its cancerous side effects, “there was a sharp downward trend in the incidence of endometrial cancer that paralleled a substantial reduction in prescriptions for replacement estrogens,” reported the NEJM in 1979.

The same scenario happened less than 30 years later. In the early 2000s women quit Prempro (the follow-up to Premarin) en masse for the same reason––its strong links to cancer and cancer rates in the U.S. also fell.

In the early 2000s, the incidence of breast cancer fell seven percent and 15 percent among women whose tumors were fed by estrogen. Ovarian cancer rates also dropped. The largest breast cancer reductions, 11 percent in California, correlated with the highest HRT use and 14,000 women who were expected to get breast cancer didn’t, reported researchers.

The National Cancer Institute reported a “huge decline in breast cancer incidence” when women quit Prempro. It was the first time breast cancer rates had ever fallen significantly, said press reports. According to Peter Ravdin, MD, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, it was the largest one-year drop that he could remember.

Yes Pharma had been giving the women cancer.

As with the current hormonal birth control pill spin, Pharma told women that menopause drugs would lower other cancer risks such as colorectal cancer––as if women should be exposed to any risks at all and would want to “trade” one cancer for another. Back then as now, the Pharma spin machine told women if they did develop breast cancer on Prempro, it would be a better cancer.

In a 2009 article in the journal Menopause, “Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy and The Risk Of Breast Cancer: A Contrary Thought,” Leon Speroff, MD, writes that even though “more tumors in hormone users are detected” than in non-hormone users, they are better tumors—“more ductal in situ tumors” and “more node-negative.” Is that any comfort to women who used the drugs, believing they were safe?

Just as with menopause hormones, the risks of hormonal birth control pills have been known for decades but buried in the interests of sales.

Martha Rosenberg is a freelance journalist and the author of the highly acclaimed “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” published by Prometheus Books. Check her Facebook page.

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