The Pill and Prostate Cancer Risk: What's the Connection?

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If you’re wondering what possible connection there could be between use of the Pill and prostate cancer risk, the results of a new study will shed some light on the topic. However, even the authors admit their research is speculative.

Men don’t take the Pill so what’s the prostate cancer connection?

Among women in the United States, the most commonly used method of contraception is the Pill, utilized by 28% of women who use some form of birth control. For women younger than 30, the Pill is the primary approach, although among women 30 and older, sterilization exceeds the Pill. Overall, more than 10 million women in America use the Pill.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer to affect males in the developed world, with Australia and New Zealand topping the list for prevalence rates. Approximately 910,000 cases of the disease were recorded in 2008, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International, and the number of cases will nearly double (1.7 million) by 2030.

In the new study, researchers evaluated data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the United National World Contraceptive Use report to determine the rates and deaths associated with prostate cancer and the proportion of women who used common contraceptive methods for 2007. The data was analyzed for individual countries around the world to identify any link between use of the Pill and prostate cancer.

The result of their calculations was that use of the contraceptive pill overall was significantly associated with the number of new cases of prostate cancer as well as deaths from the disease in individuals countries around the world. A country’s wealth did not have an effect on these findings.

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The possible link between the Pill and prostate cancer is supported by previous findings that indicate exposure to estrogen may increase a man’s risk of prostate cancer. With so many women using the Pill, and the accompanying release of estrogen into the environment, especially in urine, where it passes into the drinking water supply, it is possible the Pill could lead to an increased incidence of prostate cancer among men.

The path between the Pill and prostate cancer risk is circuitous, however. Disposal of estrogens into the water supply may raise environmental levels of substances called endocrine disruptive compounds (EDCs), which do not break down easily and thus they can end up in the food chain or in drinking water.

According to the authors, “Temporal increases in the incidence of certain cancers (breast, endometrial, thyroid, testis and prostate) in hormonally sensitive tissues in many parts of the industrialized world are often cited as evidence that widespread exposure of the general populations to EDCs has had adverse impacts on human health.”

While other means of contraception—condoms, intrauterine devices, and vaginal barriers—were not associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer, the authors hypothesized that oral contraceptives “may cause an environmental contamination, leading to an increased low level estrogen exposure and therefore higher PCa [prostate cancer]) incidence and mortality.”

SOURCES:
Margel D, Fleschner NE. BMJ Open 2011; 1:e000311
Mosher WD, Jones J. Use of contraception in the United States: 1982-2008. Vital and Health Statistics 2010, series 23, no. 29.
World Cancer Research Fund International

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

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