Birth control pills are one of the most effective, accessible and popular contraceptive choices. Many women begin using birth control pills as a teen or a young woman and may continue them for a number of years, sometimes through menopause. Fortunately, oral contraceptives, particularly modern low-dose pills, are quite safe, but you should be aware of their long-term effects.
Cancer and the Pill
Birth control pills have been shown to reduce the risk of some types of cancer, including endometrial and ovarian cancers. According to the Mayo Clinic, using birth control pills for 10 years will reduce your risk of developing these cancers by as much as 80 percent. A slightly higher risk of liver and cervical cancer may be linked to birth control pills. Data regarding the link between the use of birth control pills and breast cancer is inconclusive. According to the National Cancer Institute, a 1996 study, “Breast Cancer and Hormonal Contraceptives,” published in “Lancet,” has shown a slightly increased risk; however, that risk is reversed some years after birth control pills have been stopped.
Oral contraceptives may cause a reduction in libido, with symptoms including decreased desire or arousal, decreased lubrication or pain during sex. While these symptoms most commonly present during the use of birth control pills, a January 2006 study, “Impact of Oral Contraceptives on Sex Hormone Binding Globulin and Androgen Levels” authored by Claudia Panzer, M.D., suggests that lower levels of testosterone may remain even after the patient discontinues birth control pills. Testosterone is the hormone responsible for sexual desire and response.
Birth control pills may have some impact on blood clotting and heart disease. Estrogen does increase the risk of blood clots, but this is primarily a concern for smokers and those with a predisposition. Women over 35 should stop smoking if they wish to continue birth control pills. One study has suggested that birth control pills, like hormone replacement therapy, increases C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in the body. CRP is produced by the liver as a response to inflammation. Inflammation and high CRP levels are linked to a higher risk of heart disease. As with blood clots, smokers over 35 should be concerned with this side effect, but the risk is not considered significant for healthy young women at low risk of heart disease.