PCOS, Oral Contraceptives, & the Risk of Breast and Cervical Cancer
Guest post by Dr. Felice Gersh
Not just most, but all studies looking at the relationship of oral contraceptives and the risk of developing both breast and cervical cancers have been consistent – the risk is clearly increased. That means that the chemicals found in oral contraceptives, those ubiquitous birth control pills (and rings, implantables, and IUD’s) are carcinogens. On the other hand, the US Government site – The National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that those same chemicals actually lower the risk of ovarian, uterine cancer, and colorectal cancers.
Can you think of any acknowledged carcinogen which is also an anti-carcinogen? I surely cannot! What on earth would the mechanism be, such that it induces cancer in one site while lowering it in another? If we are to be scientific, then that “small” inconsistent issue must be explained.
Let’s think of another recognized carcinogen – radiation. Radiation increases cancer wherever it is focused on the body. It creates oxidative stress and ultimately leads to death. How about asbestos? How about methylparabens? How about formaldehyde? Certainly, those chemicals do not play dual and opposite roles in the body regarding cancer. They are what they are – carcinogens. Without a truly scientific explanation, I have more than a little trouble accepting that the chemicals found in contraceptives are such “magical” substances that they can do completely opposite things in a female body. Let us begin by discussing what is found in these so-called “hormonal” contraceptives.
What are hormonal contraceptives?
First, we must define what a hormone is. These complex molecules are chemical messengers produced to deliver information to a cell, to create a specific effect. This effect can be modified by other chemicals, such as kinases and enzymes. All these various chemicals work together in beautifully synchronous harmony within a healthy body. Hormones are critical agents of health, of a properly functioning organism. Hormones are not “optional” components of health. They are the lifeline of information needed to initiate all the tasks a cell must perform – at exactly the right time and in the right manner. Living without the exactly right balance of hormones results in living with some degree of metabolic chaos within the body. Hormones are the language of communication throughout the body and without hormones, all is silent – there is no language, no direction for cells to follow.
And what if, in place of our own natural hormones, there is a mix of imposters – chemical mimics which can deliver a message to the cell, but it is an incomplete or wrong message? Then you have a cell performing the wrong task at the wrong time – producing the wrong proteins or performing improper cellular functions. That is what happens in the presence of endocrine disruptors – “phony-baloney” chemical mimics of real hormones – like evil twins. These evil twins can get into the real hormone’s receptors but deliver the wrong messages and create the wrong results. That cannot lead to a happy ending, and indeed it does not when the endocrine disruptors are those ever-present “hormonal” contraceptives. You can place a wolf in Grandma’s nighty, but it is still a wolf and will try to gobble you up. And that is how I see all “pretend hormones” found in pills, rings, injectables, implantables, and IUDs. To put it succinctly – they are evil.
How do hormonal contraceptives work?
But wait a minute, aren’t birth control pills filled with hormones? The answer is – no – not a single hormone resides in a birth control pill. Officially, on the US Toxicology Website, a division of the National Institutes of Health, the same one putting out the “information” on oral contraceptives, it states very clearly that every ingredient in these contraceptives is indeed a chemical endocrine disruptor. Quite frankly, these endocrine disruptors are poisons, their purpose is to disturb and upset the very foundation of female health and fertility – to eliminate the foundational ovarian function of producing estrogen and progesterone and to substitute a toxic chemical mimic in their place.
Here is a key point I want you to take away from this article – fertility is a vital sign of female well-being! One’s menstrual cycle is a clear-cut manifestation of hormonal health or dysfunction – a real reflection of fertility potential. An absent or abnormal cycle is a bad omen for fertility capability. Please take this message to heart – fertility in a reproductive-aged woman is synonymous with health, while infertility indicates ill-health, and requires a metabolic investigation, even if a baby is not desired at that time. If you are in the reproductive age bracket, fertility and health are one and the same thing!! Reproduction and metabolic health are one. Women with PCOS need evaluation and proper healing therapies, not a toxic cover-up of their symptoms!
Ancient civilizations knew this and now so do you! Now you understand that the menstrual cycle is a vital sign of female health – for good or for bad. If a woman has an abnormal cycle, as is so common with women with PCOS, that is a sign of malfunction, of hormonal imbalance, and a clear red flag that there are significant health issues ongoing in that woman. The next step is to discover that is wrong with her and facilitate her journey back to having regular cycles on her own – real not fake cycles!
The real problem with the pill
Regular bleeding with oral contraceptives in not a sign of healing or of health. It is all smoke and mirrors. There is no restoration of health – only a costly mirage of normalcy. For the body cannot heal with such pharmaceutical hormonal-disruption therapy. The real problems are in no way being addressed. Think of this analogy – a wall is filled with mold and termites and is covered with a pretty piece of wallpaper. Beneath the pretty facade lies a wall festering with destruction – and likewise for women with PCOS – their bodies are ill on the inside – and placing them on birth control pills just provides an illusion of healing, but no true healing is occurring. Their bodies may look prettier on the outside but inside the problems fester and worsen. Sadly, the day of reckoning will come and a heavy price for the use of the contraceptive “hormonal chemicals” may usher in multiple health issues, including some form of cancer.
Breast cancer and hormonal birth control
Let’s take a deeper dive into the issue of breast cancer as a consequence of the use of oral contraceptives. An analysis of 150,000 women who were participants in 54 studies showed that women currently using oral contraceptives have a 24% increased risk of developing breast cancer. That analysis suggested that the risk declined after the contraceptives were stopped.
A 2010 analysis of data from the Nurses’ Health Study, involving over 116,000 female nurses, found an increased risk of breast cancer in oral contraceptive users – specifically in those using triphasic versions. In that type of pill, the chemical formulations varies over the treatment course.
In 2017, a large prospective study from Denmark reported elevated risk of breast cancer with the use of current formulations of oral contraceptives. Users and recent users showed an increased risk of 20%, but the risk went as high as 60% for some specific types of pills. The study also showed a definite increase in risk with longer duration of use. The article begins with the telling statement, “Little is known about whether contemporary hormonal contraception is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.” Of course, I am so glad this study was done, but I’m irked by their reference to birth control pills as containing hormones. Please understand this – there are no hormones in any birth control pill – they are nothing but endocrine disruptors – poisons to the female body. Back to the study – it involved all women in Denmark between the ages of 15 and 49, all without fertility treatments or a history of blood clot. Their national healthcare system allowed the researchers full access to all the data of the country. The women were only followed for 10.9 years. This is important to know, as the carcinogenic effects of these pills (and patches and rings) may not manifest for well past that time frame.
Let’s look at what they found. The numbers were large – 1.8 million women. Here is the huge finding which was conveniently left off the government website on oral contraceptives and breast cancer when they mentioned that risk rose with time. They conveniently “forgot” to provide the numbers, so here they are – with more than 10 years of use (which I see all the time) the risk rose dramatically, to a 38% increased risk of breast cancer after such use. Of note – those using the progestin-only IUD (the Mirena or similar) also had an elevated breast cancer risk of 21%. What happens with women on such contraception after more than a decade – well, we just don’t know. Length of use appears related to risk, and I’ve patients on these drugs for well over 20 years. We should know if prolonged use leads to further increased risk, but we don’t. And while it seems that no one in the pharmaceutical industry or government much cares, you and I do!
Cervical cancers and hormonal birth control
It is universally agreed that this risk is also increased. One study showed a 10% increase in the risk of cervical cancer when birth control pills were used for under 5 years, and a whopping 60% increase in risk with just 5-9 years of use, and an incredible doubling of the risk with 10 or more years of use! Precancers of the cervix are also increased. 308,036 women were followed in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and and Nutrition (EPIC) Study. It was found that after 15 or more years of use, the risk of advanced cervical precancers increased nearly 2 times over that of non-users of oral contraceptives. We are giving the Gardasil vaccine to girls and women to prevent cervical cancer (even though it has documented significant risks) while giving cervical cancer carcinogens, known as oral contraceptives to these same people.
When it comes to breast and cervical cancers – the jury is in – the incidence of cancer is significantly increased in users of “hormonal” contraception. Placing endocrine disruptors in female bodies has become the norm. Once upon a time, so was the treatment of humans with lead, mercury, and arsenic. Just because something has become a common practice at a certain time in history does not make it right or safe. Would you spend all day licking hot plastic? Why is consuming known carcinogens, chemicals shown to disrupt the critical delivery, production, and function of hormones within the female body, an accepted practice?
My goal is to recognize the real medical issues which women with PCOS face daily, and then confront them directly – repair the gut barrier, reduce systemic inflammation, balance hormones naturally, and restore the beautiful innate rhythms of female bodies back to their proper state. Only then can metabolic and reproductive functions return to an optimal state, allowing women with PCOS to lead the vibrant lives they desire and deserve. Please – let’s stop the poisoning of female bodies in the name of medical therapy and give all women with PCOS a real opportunity to be healthy, fully functioning females.
Felice Gersh, MD
Medical Director, The Integrative Medical Group of Irvine
Double Board Certified – Obstetrics and Gynecology and Integrative Medicine
www.felicelgershmd.com (educational site)
Author, with her daughter, Alexis Perella: PCOS SOS – A Gynecologist’s Lifeline to Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness (Available on Amazon)
Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. Lancet. 1996;347(9017):1713-27
Morch et al. N Engl J Med. 2017;337(23):2228-2239
Smith et al. Lancet.2003;361(9364):1159-67
International Collaboration of Epidemiological Studies of Cervical Cancer. Lancet.2007;370(9599):1609-21
Roura et al. PLoS One.2016;11(1):e0147029