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Aetiology and harm
Short-term cancer risks associated with oral contraceptives are balanced by longer term benefits
  1. Penelope M Webb,
  2. Susan J Jordan
  1. Population Health Department, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Professor Penelope M Webb, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Locked Bag 2000 RBH, QLD 4029, Australia; penny.webb{at}

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Commentary on: Iversen L, Sivasubramaniam S, Lee AJ, et al. Lifetime cancer risk and combined oral contraceptives: the Royal College of General Practitioners' Oral Contraception Study. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2017;216:580.e1–9.


Oral contraceptives (OCs) were introduced in the early 1960s. Uptake was rapid in many Western countries and, by the mid-1970s, 20%–30% of women of reproductive age were current users. It is well established that women have a slightly increased risk of developing breast, cervical or liver cancer while taking OCs and for a few years after stopping. However, OCs also greatly reduce risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer and perhaps colorectal cancer.1 This risk reduction, at least for ovarian and endometrial cancer, persists for two to three decades after stopping OCs. This prospective study extends this body of evidence by examining the long-term balance of cancer risks and benefits associated with OC use.2


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  • Contributors PMW and SJJ contributed equally to this commentary.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.