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Contraception and Breast Cancer

On this page we cover:

 

A note on terms: 

Everyone has breast tissue and people of all genders can get breast cancer. To be clear and consistent, we use the word ‘breasts’ in our health information, rather than boobs, pecs or chest. When we say breasts, we mean the tissue from your rib cage up to your collarbone and armpits, including your nipples.

Hormonal Contraceptives

Hormonal contraception has benefits for lots of people. Hormonal contraception also has a small link to breast cancer, and in some cases it can slightly increase the risk. Hormonal contraception includes:

  • Injections
  • The contraceptive patch 
  • Implants
  • Vaginal rings 
  • The progesterone only pill (or ‘the mini pill’)
  • The combined contraceptive pill – known as ‘the pill’ 

These contraceptives release the hormones oestrogen and progesterone into the body to prevent pregnancy.

 

How Hormonal Contraceptives Increase Risk

It is still not fully known why hormonal contraceptives such as the pill increase cancer risk. What we do know is that oestrogen and progesterone can grow breast cancer cells, so these hormones could be the reason for the link. The newer pills have lower doses of these hormones than pills we used in the past.

 

What Is The Risk?

  • In every 10,000 people who do not take hormonal contraception, about 40 will get breast cancer between the ages of 30 and 39.
  • In every 10,000 people who do take hormonal contraception for most of their thirties, about 54 will get breast cancer between the ages of 30 and 39.
  • So, the pill causes about 14 extra cases of breast cancer in every 10,000 women in this age range. 
  • If you have been taking the pill for 5 years or more, that slight risk increase can remain for up to 10 years after stopping. After this time, the risk increase falls back down again.

Keep in mind that the risk of getting breast cancer from taking hormonal contraception is very low, especially if you are under 40. But no matter your risk, it is always important to regularly check your breasts and speak to your doctor if you have concerns. 

 

Find What Is Best For You

If you have other risk factors for breast cancer, such as a family history, you should talk over contraceptive risks with your doctor. It is also worth thinking about how long you plan to be on the contraception. Whilst the pill does have a small risk increase for breast cancer, it also slightly decreases your risk of some other cancers, such as ovarian cancer. So, before you decide on a contraceptive, weigh up the pros and cons of each and consider your own health and lifestyle. Like all medicine, the pill has risks and benefits. There are plenty of contraceptives out there, so find what works for you. You can ask your doctor to help you make an informed choice. Our good pals at Brook also have a fab contraceptive guide to help you.

This information was published in April 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

Natural Changes

Your breasts will go through a lot of changes in your life. Some are normal, for example your breasts will change during pregnancy. Some changes you need to get checked by a doctor.

Read more