Birth Control Pills and Breast Cancer

I remember reaching my ten year anniversary with the pill and feeling a deep concern about my own health. Especially as it related to birth control pills and breast cancer. You see, many experts have concluded that the longer we are exposed to high dose estrogen the higher the risk of developing estrogen-related cancers. 

We’ve known there is a risk of breast cancer with hormonal contraceptives, but there has been speculation that the newer pills may have a lower risk. Doctors have commonly believed that the lower the dose of hormones then the lower the risk of cancer, but as it turns out, we need to be more concerned about the birth control pill and breast cancer than was previously thought.

Birth Control Pills and Breast Cancer – What You Need to Know

We now have significant data on the newer generations of birth control pills, which wasn’t previously available. In a recent study out of the New England Journal of Medicine, they followed 1.8 million Denmark women age 15 to 49 years and found that hormonal contraceptives, including the pill and IUDs, were associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

The study also found that progestins, like those in hormonal IUDs, may also be raising the risk of breast cancer. These are not to be mistaken for progesterone, which is naturally produced by the body.

The big take away—all forms of hormonal contraceptives raise the risk of breast cancer. There was a 20% increased risk for women who used the pill compared to women using non-hormonal forms of contraception, like condoms, non-hormonal IUD, or FAM.

And while twenty percent is no joke, it is also important to understand how this risk breaks down. The increased risk results in about 13 more cases of breast cancer per year. Or in other words, for every 100,000 women using hormonal contraceptives, there are 68 cases of breast cancer per year. For women who are not on the pill or using other forms of hormonal birth control, there are about 55 cases per year.

Another big take away was that risk doesn’t just go away when you stop birth control. We’ll need more long-term studies to understand just how big this impact is, but preliminary findings are pointing to a long-term elevated risk. As we’ve seen with Post-Birth Control Syndrome, there are lasting side effects associated with the pill.

Post-Birth Control Syndrome

The pill and hormonal contraceptives work in three ways. By stopping ovulation, thinning the lining of your uterus and altering your cervical mucus secretions. If it can do all of that then surely we can expect there to be some side effects.

Hormonal contraceptives are associated with a whole slew of problems. Women and science have both reported these. These issues range from mood disorders to nutrient depletion and even adrenal and thyroid issues. The pill has the ability to rob you of your libido for good.

As a physician who helps women reverse Post-Birth Control Syndrome and rebalance their hormones, I’ve treated many women struggling with the effects of the pill and other hormonal contraceptives.

In my clinical practice, my team and I help women who are seeking to restore their hormones, have easier periods, become pregnant and thrive through menopause all after coming off of the pill. And you know what? They are able to achieve their hormone goals naturally.

For women who are on the pill or have used hormonal contraceptives in the past, I recommend making these two lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of breast cancer and improve overall health.

If you’re experiencing breast tenderness then check out this article all about what causes it and what to do about it.

the pill breast cancer risk

Supporting Breast Health—On or Off The Pill

Now of course if you’re on the pill or any form of hormonal contraceptives the first step is clear. Stopping them is great at lowering the risk. But you may not be ready to make the transition yet, and I get that. Whether on the pill or off, making these two lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on your breast health.

Exercise for 20 Minutes Daily

Moderate to vigorous exercise daily wins in the research every time! This is why movement is a foundational piece of the protocols I use to help women struggling with post-birth control syndrome.

Research has found that about 150 minutes of weekly exercise or about 20 minutes per day, is associated with lower rates of return of breast cancer and death from the disease.

In a meta-analysis of 22 cohort studies, it was found that regular exercise may reduce the risk of death from breast cancer by 40%. Yes, 40%!!!

Exercise to Support Breast Health:

  • Walking, jogging, interval training
  • Strength training
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Zumba
  • Barre 3
  • Martial arts

Eat Your Greens!

More specifically, eat your cruciferous vegetables. That particular group of veggies have great anti-cancer compounds.

Broccoli sprouts contain potent amounts of Indole-3-Carbinol which supports detoxification of hormones and can help balance hormones. Broccoli sprouts have also been shown to have benefit in helping you eliminate environmental toxins.

Looking to support hormone balance? Check out my guide to caring for your body on or off the pill. 

What are my options if I’m not on the pill?

This is one of the top questions I get asked from women who are looking for an alternative to hormonal contraceptives. I’m a big fan of high-tech FAM and recommend the Daysy to my patients looking for an effective way to prevent pregnancy and learn more about working with their body.

I’ve written about non-hormonal alternatives in the following articles. Please use these resources to make the best decision for your body.

Non-Hormonal Alternatives to The Birth Control Pill 

4 Alternatives to Hormonal Birth Control

Does Fertility Awareness Method Work? 

Post-Birth Control Syndrome Quick Start Guide 



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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten is a licensed Functional Medicine Naturopathic Doctor, best selling author, speaker, and mother. Dr. Brighten specializes in women’s health, from fertility to postpartum care, adrenal and thyroid support, autoimmune conditions, and digestive disorders. In her patient centered practice, Dr. Brighten thrives on navigating the space between conventional and alternative medicine, all while working with patients to help them achieve optimum balance, health, and happiness.