Does the combined contraceptive pill cause cancer?

The combined pill (usually just called ‘the pill’) contains oestrogen and progesterone.

  • Taking the combined pill slightly increases your risk of breast cancer 
  • Within a few years of stopping, this increased risk disappears

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 the pill, or are unsure about what type of contraception you’re taking, talk to your doctor or family planning clinic.

How much does the combined pill increase breast cancer risk?

Breast cancer is rare in young women. A slight increase in risk during this time means only a small number of extra cases of breast cancer are diagnosed.

In a group of 10,000 women who do not use the combined pill, about 40 will probably develop breast cancer between the ages of 30 and 39.  

In a group of 10,000 women who do use the combined pill for most of their 30s, about 54 will develop breast cancer between the ages of 30 and 39.

So using the combined pill during this time causes about 14 extra cases of breast cancer in every 10,000 women.

Why does the pill increase breast cancer risk?

The combined pill contains oestrogen and progestogen. 

The link between the pill and breast cancer risk is not yet clear, but these hormones can increase the growth of some breast cancers, which might explain why taking the pill slightly increases the risk of breast cancer.

Should I take the pill if I have a family history of breast cancer?

If you have inherited the faulty breast cancer genes BRCA1 or 2, speak to your family history or genetics specialist if you are considering using the pill. The benefits and risks will be different for you. 

Other types of contraception

It’s not known whether the mini pill (also known as the progestogen-only pill, or POP) increases the risk of breast cancer. Research is looking into this and whether breast cancer risk is affected by implants, injections or the intra-uterine system. 

Until more research is done, we can’t confirm the risks.

Last reviewed: September 2019
Next planned review begins 2020

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