Low-dose oral contraceptives are as protective against ovarian cancer as are older, high-dose pills, find University of Pittsburgh researchers

PITTSBURGH, July 24 -- Low-dose contraceptives currently on the market are just as effective as the older, high-dose preparations in protecting women from ovarian cancer, according to investigators from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) in a paper published in the August 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

"Our study shows that women who are taking, or have taken, low-dose oral contraceptives have a 40 percent reduction in risk of ovarian cancerthe same risk reduction provided by the older, high-dose birth-control pills," said senior author Roberta Ness, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh GSPH. In addition, researchers found that this protection begins soon after initiating use, and continues for at least 30 years after stopping use.

Previous research has shown that women taking the older, pre-1980 oral contraceptives were less likely to develop ovarian cancer than were women who had never used them. But over the past two decades the amounts of estrogen and progestin in oral contraceptives have steadily decreased, and new progestins have been introduced. The University of Pittsburgh study is the first population-based, case-controlled effort to examine risk protection offered by the newer preparations.

"Until now, few women taking the low-dose preparations had passed through the critical 20- to-30-year window during which the incidence of ovarian cancer rises," explained Dr. Ness. "Ours is the first study to observe a sufficiently long time interval between oral contraception cessation and the age at which women begin developing ovarian cancer."

Although formulations containing low-dose estrogen are equally as effective as are high-dose formulations in suppressing ovulation, researchers were unsure of whether they would be equally able to suppress gonadotropin levels, which are thought to elevate ovarian cancer risk. This study confirms that they

Contact: Kathryn Duda
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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