New research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology says that women who use hormonal birth control methods long-term may be at an increased risk for developing brain tumors. During this project, Danish researchers used data from Denmark’s national administrative and health registries, a large resource that allowed them to identify women in Denmark between 15 and 49 years of age who had been diagnosed with glioma of the brain, a rare tumor. Alarmingly, using hormonal contraceptive for just five years is associated with an increased risk of developing this sort of brain tumor. While symptoms, treatments and outcomes vary based on the type of brain glioma, I think it’s fair to assume we’d all rather not have brain tumors of any kind.

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Researchers in the past have already discovered that female sex hormones can increase the risk of some cancer types but keep in mind that there’s also evidence that some age groups may benefit from the use of hormones and even experience decreased tumor risks. According to research team leader Dr David Gaist of the Odense University Hospital and University of Southern Denmark, “This prompted us to evaluate whether using hormonal contraceptives might influence the risk of gliomas in women of the age range who use them.” Dr Gaist reminds women even though they found an actual significant association between hormonal contraceptive use and glioma risk, that doesn’t mean you should quit your birth control method right this second. “It is important to keep this apparent increase in risk in context,” says Dr Gaist. “In a population of women in the reproductive age, including those who use hormonal contraceptives, you would anticipate seeing 5 in 100,000 people develop a glioma annually, according to the nationwide Danish Cancer Registry.” The most important thing this study shows is that we absolutely need to further evaluate long-term contraceptive use so that in the future women may find the best and safest contraceptive options to suit their needs. Learn more about hormonal methods of birth control or take a look at non-hormonal methods here.

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+ Hormonal contraceptive use and risk of glioma among younger women: a nationwide case-control study

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