Long-term use of birth control pills, having more children increases risk of cervical cancer

Studies highlighted by Dr Summia suggested a correlation between the duration of oral contraceptive use and cervical cancer risk

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Ashwani Kumar

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Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Published: Thu 8 Feb 2024, 2:01 PM

Last updated: Thu 8 Feb 2024, 11:30 PM

Taking birth control pills for more than five years and giving birth to multiple children are linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer – the fourth most common cancer in women globally, leading medical experts said in Abu Dhabi.

Dr Summia Zaher, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology and medical director at M42’s Danat Al Emarat Hospital in Abu Dhabi, provided crucial insights into the hormonal link to cervical cancer and underscored the significance of preventive measures and regular screenings.

Highlighting the impact of oral contraceptives on the hormonal connection to cervical cancer, Dr Summia said: “Naturally occurring oestrogen and progesterone, produced by the ovaries, stimulate the growth of certain cancers, including cervical cancer. Synthetic versions of these hormones, such as in birth control pills, may increase cancer risk and alter the susceptibility of cervical cells to persistent high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, closely associated with cervical cancer.”

Dr Summia Zaher
Dr Summia Zaher

Studies highlighted by Dr Summia suggested a correlation between the duration of oral contraceptive use and cervical cancer risk.

“Women using contraceptives for five or more years have a higher risk, with a notable doubling of the risk for those using contraceptives for 10 years or more. Importantly, once women stop using oral contraceptives, their cervical cancer risk gradually declines over time,” Dr Summia told Khaleej Times.

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Addressing the impact of childbearing on cervical cancer risk, Dr Summia noted that women with more children may face a higher risk due to increased exposure to HPV infection and hormonal changes during pregnancy. The timing of pregnancies also plays a role, with those having their first full-term pregnancy before the age of 20 at a higher risk.

Beyond hormonal factors and childbirth, Dr Summia highlighted additional risk factors for cervical cancer, including family history, smoking, dietary habits, and economic status. Limited access to healthcare services, including screenings and vaccinations, may contribute to higher risks for lower-income women.

Dr Shweta Narang
Dr Shweta Narang

How to reduce risk

Regular screening tests are important as they can detect changes in cervical cells before they even become cancerous. If abnormalities are detected in screening tests, prompt follow-up with increased surveillance is crucial.

Dr Shweta Narang, medical director and director of clinical operations at M42’s National Reference Laboratory, emphasised on the vital role of precise screening methods for early detection. Given that HPV infection is a major contributor to cervical cancer, the primary screening method involves a combination of Pap tests and HPV screening.

“Screening frequency varies by age, with options including Pap tests alone every three years for women aged 21 to 29 and co-testing with Pap and HPV every five years for those aged 30 to 65. Pap test with Integrated HPV testing enhances sensitivity for a comprehensive risk assessment,” Dr Shweta explained.

While HPV vaccination significantly reduces cervical cancer risk, Dr Shweta stressed that it does not replace the need for regular screening through Pap smears. “Cervical cancer is a preventable and manageable disease with early detection and lifestyle changes. Raising awareness about these preventive measures empowers women to take control of their health and reduces the global burden of cervical cancer.”

To prevent cervical cancer, Dr Summia recommended lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking, regular exercise, maintaining a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and ensuring good sleep hygiene. “These changes not only contribute to cervical cancer prevention but also foster overall well-being and immune system health.”

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