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A study by the World Health Organization (WHO), published online (27Mar02) in the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, found that women who use the oral contraceptive pill for more than five years could triple their risk of developing cervical cancer.

The study examined the history of 3,769 women in 8 countries who had HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), an STD (STI) present in about 99% of all cases of cervical cancer.

Since most women who have HPV do not develop cervical cancer, scientists believe there must be co-factors involved.

Researchers at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of WHO, pooled data in 8 control studies to compare 1,853 with HPV and cervical cancer with 1,916 with HPV but no cancer, and asked about their birth control practices.

They found that women with HPV who take the pill for less than five years do not significantly increase their risk of developing cervical cancer.

However, those who are on the pill for longer than five years are nearly three times as likely to develop the disease.

Those who take it for more than 10 years quadruple their risk. Moreover, the increased danger persisted for more than 15 years, even if a woman stopped taking the pill.

About one percent of women will develop cervical cancer. Long-term pill use raises the odds to three or four percent, according to the WHO findings.


About 13,000 American women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year, and it will kill about 4,100.

Worldwide, approximately 200,000 women die of cervical cancer. It is the most common cancer killer in large parts of the developing world. 

With this study, the onus is definitely on OB/GYNs to warn their patients, said Dr. Kahlenborn, who warned that birth control manufacturers, cancer awareness groups and even insurance companies could be liable for failing to inform women about the known body of evidence on the pill. All of the pill's potential hazards should be clearly explained to women who are considering its use. 

"As more information comes out, it's going to be increasingly difficult to suppress [the documented evidence from medical studies]" said Dr. Kahlenborn. "There's a growing sense that it's really just a matter of time before the lid blows on this thing. I think by the year 2010, we will start to see a new attitude towards the pill, and it will be fueled by lawsuits."

[WHO study, 27Mar02, The Lancet; NCR, 14-20Apr02; FRC News, Jun/Jul02]



Chris Kahlenborn, M.D. is a practicing internist. After extensive research, he authored Breast Cancer, Its Link to Abortion and the Birth Control Pill. He also authored the brochure "Breast Cancer Risk from The Pill".

Dr. Kahlenborn states that 18 of 21 studies done since 1980 regarding the birth control pill and breast cancer show that Pill users have a higher risk of breast cancer than non-users.

An analysis in 1990 of the research up to that time indicated that women who used the Pill for 4 or more years before their first full-term pregnancy had a 72% increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Dr. Kahlenborn also notes that the Pill increases the risk of breast cancer more for some groups of women than for others.

Groups at especially high risk include younger women, women who have not given birth, women who have a family history of breast cancer, those who took the Pill for long periods (4 years or more), and young Black women.

Certain types of oral contraceptives (OCs) cause more risk than others. For example, studies have shown that breast cancer risk is almost tripled for women who used Depo-Provera for 2 years or more before age 25.

* A woman who takes birth control pills before her first child is born has at least a 40 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer.

* A woman who has taken the pill for four or more years prior to the birth of her first child, has a 72 percent risk factor in developing breast cancer.

[Breast Cancer, Its Link…; "Breast Cancer Risk…"; Kahlenborn, M.D.; One More Soul,;  IRLC News, Spring/Summer 2001]

Of the 1.5 million out-of-wedlock pregnancies reported in the United States each year, the majority of the women (about 55%) affected say they were using – or trying to use – birth control at the time they conceived.