We’ve known for years that taking birthcontol pills cut the risk of certain types of ovarian cysts. Indeed, we doctors treat women who keep getting follicular cysts with the pill.

Now long term studies suggest that the low dose birthcontol pill might also prevent Ovarian Cancer.

There’s probably a complicated reason for it, but the simple way to understand  how the pill stops cysts is fairly easy: it stops the ovaries from producing eggs. No eggs, no follicles around the egg. No follicles, and no follicular cyst.

But why should it stop cancer? Is this also because it lets the ovaries rest? And do ovaries that produce more eggs have more cancer?

Well, there are a lot of Risk Factors for cancer of the ovary…some have to do with the general genetic resistance to cancer (higher if there is a family history or if you have had cancer somewhere else).

But one of the risk factors is never having children.

This makes sense too. You see, in the “natural world”, women would have 6 to eight kids a piece. For every kid, you “lose” 12 ovulations (more if you breast feed for a couple months). Less ovulation, less cancer.

And in the modern world, the same decrease would be found in women who take the pill or use Depo Provera, both of which stop the eggs from popping out.

But of course the problem is complicated by hormones and diet. There is a relationship between hormone balance and ovulation and female hormones, especially estrogen. If you are too fat or too thin, it’s harder to get pregnant.

But now comes the big question: Does taking medicines to produce eggs to get pregnant increase the rate of ovarian cancer?

There are anecdotal studies suggesting it does, but a large population study doesn’t show any increase, which is good news. Of course, it may take another 20 years to  confirm this.

Now, most of us who have suffered the side effects of hormones and other medicines to try to get pregnant would probably even accept a small risk of cancer if it meant we could have a child.

And most women who undergo fertility treatment, along with getting powerful medicine to pop an egg out, only do it a couple of times, and then they either give up or get pregnant. (Since I had adopted children and step children, I just gave up).

But what about college students who “donate” eggs for infertile couples? It is one thing to risk problems for a child, but another to risk your life to get a couple thousand bucks for your tuition so a doctor can help a rich lady to get a child– or to let scientists use your eggs to produce embryos to experiment on.

This risk to those donating eggs is why the American Fertility Society advises that no woman be paid for more than six egg donations, but the bad news is that they have no power to regulate the business.

Like most things in life, it is not a “don’t use” or “let it alone”, it takes discernment in the risks, and figuring if the risk is worth it.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket and she posts medical essays to Hey Doc’s Xanga Blog

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