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Researcher: Safety of birth control pills is not “sufficiently well established”

UCI UC Irvine
Strassmann said drug companies should know if hormonal contraceptives give women more or less hormonal exposure than other methods of contraception.

In 1960, the first oral contraceptive was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as contraception.

That drug, Enovid, changed the course of history for women.

Yet Beverly Strassmann, a professor of anthropology and a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, has a challenge for the drug companies that make hormonal birth control: don’t rest on your laurels.

Her research indicates it might be past time for pharmaceutical companies to tweak the formulation of the pill.

She said because there is a “direct link” between level of hormonal exposure and breast cancer, “the safety of hormonal contraceptives has not been sufficiently well established.”

She thinks drug companies should already be able to answer these questions:

“Are women getting more hormonal exposure when they don’t take hormonal contraceptives and say, use barrier methods of contraception – are their own ovaries giving them more?” Strassmann said. “Or when you suppress a woman’s own ovaries, and instead give her synthetic hormones, does she get more?”

She said drug companies can't answer those questions right now.

Listen above to hear Strassmann fully explain her research and its implications.

She said it’s important for women on birth control pills to ask their doctors the following questions:

““Why am I on this pill versus another alternative? What do you personally know about the cancer risks and the epidemiological data associated with the different formulations? And am I on this birth control pill for a kind of subsidiary reason? One reason might be acne. Is it worth it to be on this particular formulation for a kind of secondary reason other than prevention of pregnancy?”

She said she also encourages women to ask about non-hormonal birth control devices.

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