In this week’s #FeministFriday, Elle talks about the positive health effects of taking birth control, like, you know, not getting cancer.
Perhaps because he was worried about my blood pressure if I continued to write angry screeds about the failures of mankind, Friend R pointed me towards a more hopeful story for this week: the incredible effect of birth control pills on decreasing the rates of endometrial cancer. According to a recent study published in The Lancet, in the past fifty years the use of birth control pills has prevented 400,000 cases of endometrial cancer, with 200,000 of those cases prevented in the last decade alone. The authors of the meta-analysis looked at 36 studies regarding endometrial cancer, performed mainly in North America and Europe, with a handful of the studies coming from Asia, Australia, South Africa, and a single multinational study (Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies on Endometrial Cancer, 5).
Because I’m a Serious Writer, I did read the entire study, but the really important stuff happens on page seven:
Overall, the longer women had used oral contraceptives, the greater the reduction in the risk of endometrial cancer. On average, every 5 years of oral contraceptive use was associated with a relative risk of 0.76, so about 10-15 years of use halves the risk. A protective effect persists for at least 30 years after use ceases, and does not seem to depend much on the doses of oestrogen in the contraceptive formulations or on personal characteristics such as parity, adiposity, or menopausal status (Collaborative, 7).
Holy cow, you guys. That’s pretty huge. And according to an article in USA Today, the benefits don’t stop there:
Earlier studies have shown that taking birth control pills for 10 years also cuts the risk of ovarian cancer in half, said JoAnn Manson, a professor at Harvard Medical School who wasn’t involved in the new study.
So to recap, birth control pills can cut a woman’s chances of getting endometrial or ovarian cancer in half. That’s amazing. I’m not even being snarky right now, that’s truly amazing.
You may remember my post a few weeks ago about The Business of Being Born and Sweetening the Pill, where I made a case for birth control pills based on their ability to reduce cysts, prevent anemia, and avoid pain. This study adds a whole heap of reasons to use the pill for medical purposes to what I already felt. (However, that still doesn’t mean that the pill is right for everyone. Consult with your doctor, yo.) These studies add validity to what feminists have been saying for years: that it is vitally important for women to have access to birth control.
Which turns my previously happy article back to sadness, if albeit briefly: the fact that the Republicans are currently throwing a temper tantrum over doctored and misleading videos about Planned Parenthood, and are threatening a government shutdown if its funding isn’t revoked. I’m not going to go into all of that mess here (you can probably expect a future Feminist Friday post about it) but what I will say is this: abortion, while a vital service that Planned Parenthood provides, is only one of many services Planned Parenthood provides. Planned Parenthood helps millions of women (and even men) every year: 2.7 women and men in the US, and 5 million women and men worldwide, every year. They help the people who come to them with health issues including general health care services, cancer screenings, pregnancy care, abortion, STD diagnosis and treatment, general gynecological services, and contraception (You know, that thing that we just learned can cut a woman’s chances of endometrial and ovarian cancer in half?). According to their website, one in five women in the US has visited a Planned Parenthood clinic at least once in their lifetime. If you’re looking for the poster child for vital health services, look no further than your local Planned Parenthood.
This study proves once again that it is insanely important for women to have access to contraception for a whole host of health reasons. When something allows a woman to control her own fertility, manage her pain, and also decreases the chances she will get cancer, anyone who is fighting against making sure that women have every possible chance to obtain that thing is pretty much on the wrong side of history. And, you know, basic human decency.
You can read the meta-analysis yourself at The Lancet Oncology.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not talking about all the good things birth control does for the world, she studies gender in popular culture.