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Considering Switching to Hormonal Birth Control? Here’s What You Need to Know

April 10, 2023

Weighing pros and cons is the best way to start any new medication, and advice one Hartford HealthCare specialist gives patients seeking birth control.

“I always counsel patients on the risks and benefits of all medications they consider starting,” says Sarah Lindsay, MD, an  obstetrician-gynecologist who practices in Hartford and West Hartford.

Recent news that all hormone contraceptive medications, including the popular combined formula of progesterone and estrogen, may be associated with an increase in breast cancer doesn’t change her approach, nor, she says, should it prompt women to automatically change their method of birth control.

“The study was retrospective and, therefore, cannot make conclusions about causation,” she says of the University of Oxford in England publication. “While the authors found up to 30% association between breast cancer and hormonal contraception, the absolute risk associated with breast cancer for each method of contraception was very low, at less than 1% for all age groups.”

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Medical advice

Hormonal contraception is also connected with significantly lower risk of other cancers such as ovarian, endometrial and colon, Dr. Lindsay continues.

“I counsel patients that some studies have found a small association with breast cancer but that, based on these studies, any increase seems quite small. I encourage all female patients to continue having annual exams and undergoing breast cancer screening, per national guidelines, to help with early detection,” she says.

Most women taking birth control pills are under the age of 50, when the risk of breast cancer is relatively low anyway.

“In light of the very small absolute increase in breast cancer in this study, I would continue to support patients who choose to use hormonal contraception,” Dr. Lindsay says.

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Other options

Those opting to avoid hormonal contraception, however, have many other birth control options. They, Dr. Lindsay says, can opt for such non-hormonal methods as:

  • Copper intrauterine devices
  • Barrier methods such as condoms and diaphragm
  • Spermicides and contraceptive gel
  • Sterilization
  • A combination of these

“Women should talk to their obstetrician-gynecologist about their options and preferences to find the right method for their individual needs,” Dr. Lindsay says.

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At Hartford HealthCare, we pay special attention to the needs of women. Education, prevention, and early detection are the keys to helping you maintain your long-term health and wellness.

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