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Birth control pills raise brain tumour risk

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Birth control pills could increase the chances of a rare form of brain tumour.

Longterm use of birth control drugs that include human progestogen increase the risk of meningioma by up to five times, a new study has found.

This means that for every 10,000 women who are aged 30 on birth control, around 40 can expect to develop meningioma before they reach the age of 80 if they have taken progestogen for more than a year, say researchers at Sante Publique in France.  

The risk is greatest for one type of contraceptive, Depo-Provera (medroxyprogesterone acetate) injection, and for every 10,000 women taking the drug, 200 will develop meningioma.

Progestogens are similar to the natural hormone progesterone and are routinely used to treat gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), and to ease menopausal symptoms.

The researchers analysed the medical history of 18,061 women who had meningioma surgery between 2009 and 2018 and were compared to similar healthy women.

The researchers discovered that three progestogens were especially linked to a raised risk of meningioma: medrogestone, which increased the risk 4.1 times, promegestone (2.7-fold increased risk), and medroxyprogesterone (5.6-fold increased risk).

The researchers add that meningioma is extremely rare, and although the contraceptives increase the risk, actual numbers will remain small.

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BMJ, 2024; 384: e078078
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