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The pill, contraception and breast cancer risk

Taking the contraceptive pill slightly increases your risk of breast cancer. Find out how much the pill could increase your risk, and why.

1. Does the contraceptive pill cause cancer?

Taking the contraceptive pill slightly increases your risk of breast cancer.

Once you stop taking it, this increased risk disappears within a few years.

The slight increase in risk is similar for the combined contraceptive pill and the progestogen-only pill (mini-pill).

The pill is a safe and effective method of contraception, and for many women the benefits outweigh the risks.

If you're worried about breast cancer and contraception, or not sure what type you're using, talk to your doctor or family-planning clinic.

Combined pill and breast cancer risk

The combined contraceptive pill contains the hormones oestrogen and progestogen.

It’s been known for some time that taking the combined contraceptive pill slightly increases the risk of breast cancer.

Progestogen-only pill, IUS and breast cancer risk

The progestogen-only pill contains the hormone progestogen. It’s also known as the mini-pill.

Newer research shows taking the progestogen-only pill slightly increases the risk of breast cancer, similar to the combined contraceptive pill.

The IUS (intrauterine system), which releases progestogen, also slightly increases the risk of breast cancer.

2. How much does the pill increase risk?

Breast cancer is rare in young women, who are most likely to take the pill.

A slight increased risk from taking the pill means only a small number of extra cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed.

It’s estimated there will be:

  • An extra 8 cases of breast cancer for every 100,000 women who take the pill between the ages of 16 and 20
  • An extra 265 cases of breast cancer for every 100,000 women who take the pill between the ages of 35 and 39

3. Why does the pill increase breast cancer risk?

The reasons for the link between the pill and breast cancer risk are not yet clear.

However, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone are known to help some breast cancers to grow. This might help explain why taking the pill slightly increases the risk of breast cancer.

4. If you have a family history of breast cancer

If you have inherited the altered BRCA1 or BRCA2 breast cancer genes, speak to your family history or genetics specialist if you’re considering using the pill. The benefits and risks will be different for you.

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Quality assurance

Last reviewed in September 2019. The next planned review began in February 2023.

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