A review of 15 studies from the past 40 years, which included a sample of more than 22,000 women with family histories of breast cancer, found no increase in breast cancer risk when they used oral contraceptives. The number of years the oral contraceptives were taken also made no meaningful difference in the risk. However, one study found an increased risk in women who took older, higher dose contraceptives from before 1975.
In women who carry the BRCA1/2 gene mutations which makes them more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, modern oral contraceptives did not raise the risk of breast cancer. However the pre-1975, higher dose oral contraceptives did produce a significantly increased risk for this group.
A bit of good news for women with the BRCA1/2 gene mutations, modern oral contraceptives significantly reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, with risk decreasing for each 10 years they were used.
The bottom line: If you have a family history of breast cancer or carry the BRCA1/2 gene mutations, it is okay to take oral contraceptives—you will not increase your risk of breast cancer. If you carry the BRCA1/2 genes, oral contraceptives help protect you from ovarian cancer.
Gary Kelsberg, MD, faculty at Valley Family Medicine Residency, collaborated on this evidence-based review with Rachel Freund, MD, former VFMRP resident; Sarah Safranek, MLIS, University of Washington Health Sciences Library; and Jon O. Neher, MD, Valley Family Medicine Residency.