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Contraception, cancer, and choice: what are the facts?

Contraception  •  24 March 2023  • 4 min read

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In light of recent news about a potential small link between the combined oral and progestogen-only hormonal contraception and breast cancer, Kayla Healy, Registered Midwife and Faculty Registered Trainer and Tanya Lane, Registered Nurse and Faculty Registered Trainer, within our contraception team explore brand new research about the risks of the combined oral and progestogen-only hormonal contraception. 

Why is this in the news? 

A new study by researchers at Oxford Population Health’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit, published by PLOS Medicine suggests that progestogen only contraceptives and combined hormonal contraceptives could potentially be associated with a slight increase in breast cancer.  

This is not the first time research has indicated a possible link, although some studies have also found no link. The Oxford researchers combined the latest findings with previous studies and have shared their conclusions. 

What did the study find? 

Overall, people who took the contraceptive pills for 15 years had a 2.2% risk of breast cancer by their late 30s, against a 2% risk among those who had not taken hormonal contraception.  

Among those in their late 20s, the risk rose from 0.50% to 0.57%. 

As you may have seen reported, this is equivalent a 20-30% increase in risk associated with combined hormonal contraceptives. 

To read more about the findings from the study: FSRH response to new study on use of combined and progestogen-only hormonal contraception and breast cancer risk.

Why this link still needs exploring 

Cancer can have a variety of complex causes, all of which need further exploration before we can be certain about proven links between cancer and combined and progestogen only hormonal contraceptives.  

Research has previously found that combined hormonal contraception is also associated with a significant decrease in the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer, across lifestyle factors.  

The Oxford study didn’t record each participant’s past use of hormonal contraceptives which could also impact their cancer risk.   

Breast cancer in general is rare in young women, while the benefits of combined oral contraceptives for many young women can be significant.   

According to Breast Cancer UK, just 18% of breast cancers between 2016-18 were in women under 50, with 82% in those 50 or older.  

For many shorter-term users, especially those who are younger, the benefits strongly outweigh the slight potential risk. For the majority of longer-term users, combined hormonal and progestogen only contraceptives are still likely to be safe. 

Should I choose combined oral and progestogen only methods?

Combined oral and progestogen only contraceptives are likely to be a safe choice for you, but if you have any concerns, you can speak to your GP or another trusted healthcare professional.  

MSI UK also provides contraception counselling as part of NHS-funded abortion care, should you wish to start a method of contraception following an abortion. If you are looking for a contraceptive method that suits your individual needs, you can book an appointment within three months of your abortion treatment.    

To find out more

To learn more about the combined oral and progestogen-only hormonal contraception:


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