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Certain Birth Control Pills Linked To Breast Cancer Risk, Say Seattle Scientists

AP Photo/American Cancer Society
This undated photo provided by the American Cancer Society shows a mammogram procedure

Seattle researchers have found a troubling link between certain kinds of birth control pills and a risk of breast cancer. But the lead scientist says women should not panic.

So here’s the scary part: women in this study who’d recently taken high-dose estrogen birth control pills had a breast cancer risk nearly triple that of women those who hadn’t taken the pill lately. Moderate-dose pills showed a 60-percent increase, and low-dose pills showed no difference.

But the researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center say there are some reasons not to get too worried yet. Those high-dose pills are rare — just 1 percent of recent users in the study took them.

And lead author Elisabeth Beaber says we’re still talking about relatively low overall risk.

“Breast cancer risk in women in this study — so ages 20 to 49 — is rare, and that needs to be considered when interpreting these results,” Beaber said.

The National Cancer Institute finds women in their 30s, for example, have a risk of just 0.44 percent. So even if you triple that, the risk is still pretty small.

And Beaber warns a single study isn’t enough to change guidelines for women or their doctors.

Still, she says more research is needed to pin down how risky certain oral contraceptives are. This study looked at about 23,000 Seattle-area women. About a thousand of them had received a breast cancer diagnosis.

The findings are published in the journal Cancer Research.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.