Studies examine possible link in breast cancer, birth control


Women with family
history of the disease
should use caution

Mia HawesReporter

The International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2005 classified hormonal contraceptives as a Group 1 carcinogen based on research finding a link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the risk of breast cancer for women on the birth control pill is higher for those who have a family history of the disease.

“If a person has breast cancer in their family, they should not take the risk and use oral contraceptives,” said Dr. Sharon Wilks, an oncologist from the Cancer Center of San Antonio.

Some breast cancer is estrogen receptor positive, Wilks said, meaning the breast cancer tumor feeds off the estrogen in birth control.

“If a patient’s tests show she is estrogen receptor positive and is still on birth control, I tell them to stop immediately,” Wilks said.

According to Wilks, if a patient who is estrogen receptor positive stays on the pill it can cause the tumor to metastasize and spread.

Nicole Buentello, one of Wilks’ patients, said she, her mother and her sister were all tested and found to be estrogen receptor positive. All had used the birth control pill.

“I was told to get off the birth control pill, and never go back on,” Buentello said. “I was only 36 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my sister was only 40.”

Buentello said she and her sister were on the pill for a little over 10 years.

Wilks said she instead recommends condoms to women with a family history of breast cancer.

Miranda Galvan, a Del Mar College student, said that when receiving her birth control pill from Planned Parenthood she was not told of the research linking the pill to an increased risk of breast cancer in certain women.

“I was never asked if I had a family history of breast cancer,” Galvan said.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women with a strong family history of breast cancer have an 11 times higher risk of breast cancer before ever taking the birth control pill.

According to the association, women who carry the mutated BRCA1 or altered BRCA2 gene should be cautious when getting on the birth control pill. Women should talk to their doctor about family history of breast cancer and other options of contraception that might be better for them.

BRCA genes mean your body produces tumor-suppressing proteins that help heal damaged DNA, according to the National Cancer Society. If the BRCA genes are mutated or altered then DNA does not heal properly and can develop cancer cells.

“New studies are showing that there is a slight increase with use of the birth control pill,” said Robin Hartman, clinical research associate at Seattle Genetics.

Seattle Genetics conducts biotechnology research to find causes of cancer and tests new medicines for different types of the disease.

The increase in breast cancer is higher in women who have altered BRCA genes and are taking the pill, Hartman said.

According to Hartman, women who have even had a single family member with an altered or mutated BRCA gene should talk to a doctor about what form of birth control they should use.

Recent studies show taking birth control pills did not increase the risk in women who are carriers of the altered BRCA2 gene, but did in those with the mutated BRCA1 gene, according to

According to Life News, extra estrogen in the pill encourages excessive multiplication of breast tissue, and when metabolized can directly damage breast tissue DNA.

There is a genetic test a woman can take to find out if she has the altered or mutated BRCA genes, according to the American Cancer Society. The test is usually taken by blood or saliva and results are available in about a month.

If a woman learns she has the altered gene, each of her siblings has a 50 percent chance of having inherited the gene as well.

The length of time a woman is on birth control also affects the development of breast cancer, according to recent research.

The Women’s Health Initiative trial results showed long-term use of birth control pills resulted in a slight increase in a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer.

According to, a woman’s chance of breast cancer may increase if she is on the pill for five years or longer.

The Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found that premenopausal women who had taken the birth control pill for longer periods and before having their first child have a higher risk of developing cancer before age 50.

According to, 10 years or more after stopping the pill the risk level returns to the same as before a woman began taking the pill.

For more information, contact the local American Cancer Society branch at 857-0136 or 4101 S. Alameda St.

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