Women on the contraceptive pill double the risk of developing cervical cancer, new research has discovered. The risk quadruples if a woman takes the Pill for more than 12 years.
But most alarming of all, a woman triples the risk in the early months of taking the Pill, and this only starts falling after the first six months.
This new discovery, which confirms earlier fears, adds to the catalogue of serious illnesses linked to the Pill. One of the most serious is breast cancer, which was scientifically identified in a several major studies, most recently a few months ago (see WDDTY vol 5 no 8).
Scientists are worried that the Pill may be a potential time bomb. Tests have never conclusively discounted the fear that the risk of cancer may remain high right up to the menopause, even among women who have long since stopped taking the Pill and who were born around 1950.
The new connection with cervical cancer was based on research among women of an earlier generation, born after 1935. Researchers were alerted to the possibility because the rate of cervical cancer suddenly doubled in the US between the early 1970s and the mid 1980s.
Dr G Ursin and a team of researchers from the University of Southern California and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California interviewed 195 women with cervical cancer, and 386 with matching social backgrounds.
Many women in the group had first taken the Pill in the 1960s, and the risk levels were in line with earlier research. The wild card discovered by the Ursin team was the very high risk among early users.
On a positive note, Ursin's team points out that cervical cancer is rare, and claims that there is evidence to show the Pill actually protects against other cancers, such as ovarian and endometrial (The Lancet, 19 November 1994), although others claim it causes those diseases (see cover story).
Back to the bad news. The Pill can also quadruple the risk of thrombosis. However, that risk leaps to an alarming 30 times if a Pill taker also has a genetic mutation called V Leiden. The mutation, which blocks the clotting agent in protein C from working, has been only recently identified as a likely cause of thrombosis.
A research team, led by Prof Jan Vandenbroucke at Leiden University Hospital in the Netherlands, is the first to realize the magnifying effect of the Pill among those with the mutation.
!AThe Lancet, 26 November 1994.