The contraceptive pill and ovarian cancer risk

Overview: Cancer of the ovary affects more than 6,500 women in the UK each year. It is the fifth most common cancer among women after breast cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer and cancer of the uterus (womb). Ovarian cancer is most common in women who have had the menopause (usually over the age of 45), but it can affect women of any age. It is well established that the use of oral contraceptives reduces the risk of ovarian cancer, but the associations with other reproductive variables are less clear. See the NHS Evidence topic page on ovarian cancer for a general overview of the condition.

Current advice: Oral contraceptives have been found to increase the risk of some cancers, and lower the risk of others. NICE recommends that women should not be prescribed the oral contraceptive pill purely for prevention of cancer. Women aged over 35 years with a family history of breast cancer should be informed of an increased risk of breast cancer associated with taking the oral contraceptive pill, given that their absolute risk increases with age. There is accredited guidance on combined hormonal contraception from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare.

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