Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
About MyOvarianCancerTeam

Can Birth Control Cause Ovarian Cancer?

Posted on June 04, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Howard Goodman, M.D.
Article written by
Maureen McNulty

It’s a myth that taking “the pill” every day can cause ovarian cancer — in fact, birth control can help reduce a person’s ovarian cancer risk. There are several types of birth control, and each may affect risk in different ways. Additionally, birth control may raise or lower a person’s chances of developing other kinds of cancer. Women who use birth control should work with their doctor to weigh the risks and benefits of using this medication.

Does Birth Control Prevent Ovarian Cancer?

There is no way to guarantee that you won’t develop ovarian cancer. However, using birth control reduces your chances of receiving this diagnosis.

Doctors have identified several factors that affect a person’s ovarian cancer risk. Many of these factors are related to hormone levels. Hormones are molecules that act as messengers, allowing one area of the body to send signals to another. The ovaries make two types of sex hormones — estrogen and progesterone. These hormones spur development during puberty and control menstruation (getting your period) and ovulation (when your ovary releases an egg). However, long-term exposure to these hormones can also increase ovarian cancer risk.

The more times a person ovulates, the more hormones their body is exposed to, and the higher their chances of developing ovarian cancer will be. Factors that prevent ovulation can help protect against this disease. Things that pause or prevent ovulation include:

  • Using birth control that contains hormones (including pills, patches, rings, and implants)
  • Being pregnant and giving birth
  • Breastfeeding

Birth control has a protective effect for all women. It may be especially helpful for people who have a high risk of developing ovarian cancer, including those who have a family history of ovarian cancer or who have mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

Which Types of Birth Control Affect Risk?

Various types of birth control may affect ovarian cancer risk differently because these medications work in different ways. Many types of birth control contain synthetic versions of estrogen and progesterone hormones. Other types don’t include any hormones.

Birth Control Pills

Birth control pills, also called oral contraceptives, contain different combinations of hormones. Often, they contain both estrogen and progestin (a synthetic version of progesterone). They prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg each month.

Using hormonal contraceptives reduces a person’s risk of ovarian cancer by 30 percent to 50 percent. This means that women on the pill may be half as likely to get ovarian cancer compared to women who don’t use birth control. Although it is still possible to develop ovarian cancer while taking hormonal medications, it is less likely. Women are partly protected from ovarian cancer for up to 30 years after stopping birth control.

Other forms of hormonal birth control, such as rings, implants, injections, or patches, can also decrease ovarian cancer risk.

Intrauterine Devices

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are small, T-shaped pieces of plastic that are placed into the uterus. Some types work by releasing progestin. They prevent pregnancy by thickening the mucus made by the cervix, which makes it more difficult for sperm to reach the egg. Additionally, they make the lining of the uterus thinner, which stops a fertilized egg from implanting (attaching to the lining). Another type of IUD contains copper wire. Although copper IUDs don’t contain hormones, they also stop sperm from reaching the egg, preventing fertilization or implantation.

Different types of IUDs help prevent ovarian cancer. One large set of studies found that women who had used an IUD at some point in their lives had a 30 percent lower chance of developing ovarian cancer.

Tubal Ligation

Tubal ligation is a surgical procedure. It may also be referred to as “getting your tubes tied.” During a tubal ligation, the fallopian tubes (tubes that allow eggs to travel from the ovaries to the uterus) are cut or blocked. Tubal ligation permanently prevents someone from getting pregnant.

Tubal ligation can also lower your cancer risk. In particular, it affects a person’s chances of developing two types of ovarian cancer: endometrioid carcinoma and clear cell carcinoma. People who have had tubal ligations have their risk of these subtypes cut in half.

Risk of Developing Other Cancers

Although birth control lowers your risk of some types of cancer, it increases your risk of others. Your doctor can help you determine whether taking birth control is a good fit for your needs considering your health history and any cancer risk factors you may have.

Endometrial Cancer

Birth control can reduce the risk for other types of gynecological cancer, such as endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterus). Women who take birth control pills are 30 percent less likely to develop this cancer. The longer birth control is used, the more protected women are. Using birth control pills to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer is especially helpful for people who are obese, smoke, or don’t exercise often.

Both hormonal and nonhormonal IUDs can also help prevent endometrial cancer. IUDs work by making the lining of the uterus thinner. Endometrial cancer develops from cells in this lining, so IUDs prevent this cancer and may be used to treat it.

Breast Cancer

Birth control may increase a person’s risk of breast cancer. Multiple studies involving hundreds of thousands of women have found that women who use birth control pills are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer. The longer a person uses birth control, the higher their risk will be. However, once a woman stops using this medication, the risk begins to drop.

The link between birth control pills and breast cancer is highest among women in their late 40s and 50s. People in this age range may want to ask their doctor about switching to a different birth control method. Doctors aren’t yet sure whether people with IUDs have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Cervical Cancer

Birth control can also increase a person’s risk of developing cervical cancer. Results of one study found that people who used birth control for less than five years were 10 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and women who used birth control for more than 10 years had twice the risk. On the other hand, nonhormonal (copper) IUDs may lead to a reduced risk of cervical cancer. Women using birth control may not be using condoms (which can prevent the spread of some viruses), which can cause cervical cancer.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon (large intestine) or rectum. People who use birth control pills are 15 percent to 20 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyOvarianCancerTeam is the social network for people with ovarian cancer and their loved ones. On MyOvarianCancerTeam, members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with ovarian cancer.

Are you living with ovarian cancer? Share your experiences in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyOvarianCancerTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Howard Goodman, M.D. is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and specializes in the surgical management of women with gynecologic cancer. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.. Learn more about him here.
Maureen McNulty studied molecular genetics and English at Ohio State University. Learn more about her here.

Related articles

A person’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is generally low. However, the condition is often...

Assessing Your Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

A person’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is generally low. However, the condition is often...
Several factors affect a person’s likelihood of developing ovarian cancer. Some characteristics,...

Ovarian Cancer Prevention: How To Lower Your Risk

Several factors affect a person’s likelihood of developing ovarian cancer. Some characteristics,...
BRCA gene mutations are a possible cause of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer develops when genetic...

BRCA Gene Mutations: What To Know About Ovarian Cancer Risk

BRCA gene mutations are a possible cause of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer develops when genetic...
According to the American Cancer Society, a woman who lives in the United States has about a 1 in...

Hormone Replacement Therapy and Ovarian Cancer Risk

According to the American Cancer Society, a woman who lives in the United States has about a 1 in...
Certain risk factors can increase a person’s chances of developing ovarian cancer. Several...

Does In Vitro Fertilization Raise Your Risk for Ovarian Cancer?

Certain risk factors can increase a person’s chances of developing ovarian cancer. Several...
Endometriosis can raise a person’s risk of ovarian cancer, but only slightly. The majority of...

Is Endometriosis a Risk Factor for Ovarian Cancer?

Endometriosis can raise a person’s risk of ovarian cancer, but only slightly. The majority of...

Recent articles

Cancer of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and peritoneum (lining of the abdomen) is collectively...

Ovarian Cancer and Pregnancy — Diagnosis and Next Steps

Cancer of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and peritoneum (lining of the abdomen) is collectively...
Among the three main types of ovarian cancer, epithelial ovarian cancer is by far the most common...

What You Need To Know About Epithelial Ovarian Cancer: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prognosis

Among the three main types of ovarian cancer, epithelial ovarian cancer is by far the most common...
When a doctor diagnoses a person’s cancer in its early stages, they’ll have more treatment...

Ovarian Cancer Screening Options and Their Limitations

When a doctor diagnoses a person’s cancer in its early stages, they’ll have more treatment...
Doctors use several diagnostic tests, including blood tests, in order to look for signs of...

My Blood Test Results Are Normal. Can It Really Be Ovarian Cancer?

Doctors use several diagnostic tests, including blood tests, in order to look for signs of...
Ovarian cancer and cervical cancer are both gynecologic cancers — they affect organs within the...

What’s the Difference Between Ovarian Cancer and Cervical Cancer?

Ovarian cancer and cervical cancer are both gynecologic cancers — they affect organs within the...
The term “palliative care” is often thought of as end-of-life care, or hospice care. However,...

Palliative Care: Improving Quality of Life With Ovarian Cancer at Any Stage

The term “palliative care” is often thought of as end-of-life care, or hospice care. However,...
MyOvarianCancerTeam My ovarian cancer Team

Thank you for subscribing!

Become a member to get even more:

sign up for free

close