Healthy living

Contraceptive pill linked to prostate cancer

The pill Oestrogen by-products may boost risk

Contraceptive pill use is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer around the world, according to new research.

A study published in the British Medical Journal Open found that countries with a high proportion of women taking the pill also had higher rates of prostate cancer.

Researchers from the University of Toronto suggest that by-products of oestrogen, excreted in the urine of women taking the pill, may have entered the water supply and contaminated the food chain, boosting the risk of prostate cancer.

The study analysed data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the United Nations World Contraceptive Use report to pinpoint rates of prostate cancer and associated deaths.

This was then compared with the proportion of women using common methods of contraception for 2007 to find out if there was any link between the use of the contraceptive pill and illness and death caused by prostate cancer, in individual countries and continents as a whole.

Their calculations showed that the use of the coil, condoms, or other barrier methods was not associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

But use of the pill in the population as a whole was significantly associated with both the number of new cases of, and deaths from, prostate cancer in individual countries around the world, the analysis showed.

The findings were not affected by a nation's wealth.

However, the study authors stressed that the research is speculative and does not confirm cause and effect, and so definite conclusions cannot be drawn. They also added that further research was needed to look into the issue.

But they also pointed to several recent studies which have suggested that oestrogen exposure may boost the risk of prostate cancer.

Excess oestrogen exposure is known to cause cancer, and it is thought that widespread use of the Pill might raise environmental levels of endocrine disruptive compounds (EDCs) - which include by-products of oral contraceptive metabolism.

These don’t break down easily, so can be passed into the urine and end up in the drinking water supply or the food chain, exposing the general population, the authors said.

Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in the developed world and use of the contraceptive pill has soared over the past 40 years.

The authors wrote: "Temporal increases in the incidence of certain cancers (breast, endometrial, thyroid, testis and prostate) in hormonally sensitive tissues in many parts of the industrialised world are often cited as evidence that widespread exposure of the general population to EDCs has had adverse impacts on human health."

This article was published on Tue 15 November 2011

Image © catherina holder -

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