The Truth About Birth Control: A Candid Consult with Dr. Conway

You’ve likely heard all about birth control, but did you know that some of what you’ve believed to be fact may actually be myth? Read on as Dr. Erin Conway, OB/GYN with Riverview Women’s Health in Hazlet, NJ, helps to straighten out some of the most common misconceptions about birth control.

 

MYTH: Taking birth control for a long time makes it more difficult to get pregnant down the road.

FACT: Taking birth control pills will not affect your ability to get pregnant once you stop the pill. Oral contraceptive pills contain estrogen and progesterone or progesterone alone. The estrogen in the pill works mainly by suppressing ovulation (release of an egg), and progesterone makes your uterus, cervix, and fallopian tubes less suitable for fertilization and implantation of an embryo. Once you stop taking oral contraceptive pills, the hormones are cleared from your system within a few days, and your body resumes its normal mechanisms of ovulation.   For many women (95%), menses returns within 30 days after stopping the pill. Almost all women should experience return of menses and fertility by 90 days after stopping the pill.

 

MYTH: Birth control pills cause weight gain.

FACT: Studies have shown no conclusive evidence of contraceptive pills causing weight gain. For example, in an analysis of 49 trials comparing combined contraceptive pills to placebo, as well as comparing various contraceptive pills to each other, research did not detect a difference in weight gain between people taking various oral contraceptives and those taking a placebo pill. There was also no difference in weight when comparing women who were on lower dose and higher dose birth control pills, suggesting that the amount of hormone taken does not affect weight gain.

Many women naturally gain weight over the years whether or not they take a hormonal birth control pill. There have also been studies showing that weight change is the same between women taking no birth control, oral contraceptive pills, IUD, and progesterone. Therefore, it is most likely that taking birth control does not contribute to weight gain, but that women naturally gain a small amount of weight each year as they age.

 

MYTH: The increased hormones in birth control pills can increase your risk of cancer.

FACT: There is no evidence to support an association between hormonal birth control and an increased risk in cancers across the board. In fact, hormonal birth control can decrease the risk of some cancers.

Let’s break this down by the most common cancers we see in women’s health. As it relates to breast cancer, combined birth control pills are associated with little to no increased risk. Any hormonal impact appears to be temporary and limited to current or recent pill use. However, for women with a personal history of breast cancer, birth control pills are not recommended.

Long-term cervical cancer risk is not increased among women who have used birth control pills, but there is a slightly increased risk among current or recent users.  This may be due to the fact that human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer, and sexually-active women using birth control pills are at higher risk of contracting HPV.

Birth control pills can actually decrease the risk of ovarian cancer by about 40%, and this protective effect may last up to 30 years after stopping the pill. Birth control pills are even used as a protective treatment for women who are at high risk for developing ovarian cancer based on their genetics. Birth control pills are also associated with a decreased risk of endometrial (uterine) cancer of about 30% and this protective effect also lasts for over 30 years.


Erin Conway

Author: Erin Conway, MD a physician with Riverview Women’s Health.

Interested in learning more about birth control options? Axia Women’s Health physicians can consult patients about a multitude of options for birth control.

Learn more or request an appointment online:

Riverview Women’s Health   |  Dr. Erin Conway

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