Category Archives: Health

What Shay Mitchell Wants You to Know About Birth Control

If you take your birth control pill at 5 p.m. on Monday, what time should you take your next pill on Tuesday? Do all oral contraceptives consist of the same hormone mix?

These questions and more are answered in a new video hosted by Shay Mitchell, called BC Trivia. Tune in, and you’ll learn that oral contraceptives should be taken at the same time every day, and that the hormone levels in different types of birth control pills vary.

RELATED: The Most Effective Birth Control, Ranked

Mitchell is best known for being a Pretty Little Liar, but she also believes that it’s time women got honest about birth control and got over any discomfort talking about it. So she’s partnered with Allergan for the company’s new Know Your Birth Control campaign, helping to separate fiction from fact when it comes to pregnancy protection. 

She tells Health that she was lucky to grow up with parents who didn’t keep birth control information hidden. “I was raised in a household where it was very open and comfortable and a safe spot for me to have these conversations with my parents and at the appropriate time—they brought me to my healthcare provider, where I had further questions and I had further conversations,”  says Mitchell. “But they wanted me to be confident in the decision I was making and the choice that I had.”

Learning the facts is one thing; navigating contraception etiquette is another. Who in the relationship is responsible for providing birth control? Do you take the pill or get an IUD? Is he carrying a condom? Before you and your partner make these and other decisions, Mitchell advises that it’s important to know what works best for you.

“I think every relationship is unique in its own,” she says. “You don’t want to mess around when it comes to your reproductive organs, so it’s something you really want to be educated on in the right way. Knowledge is power—especially when it comes to this and your body.”

If you’ve ever found yourself in an uncomfortable birth control–related situation, or felt pressured to do something with a partner you weren’t cool with, Mitchell says to listen to your inner voice.

RELATED: You Can Now Get Birth Control From an App, Without Seeing a Doctor. Here’s What to Know Before You Try It

“I think you always have to be true to yourself,” she says. “You have a voice inside you, I think you follow that. That’s really what it comes down to, is feeling comfortable with yourself. And again, I think you feel more comfortable and confident when you have the information that’s necessary to know to take those steps.”

From the birth control pill to IUDs to the hormonal implant, it’s easy to find a reliable method that works best for you. As Mitchell says, engaging in open conversations with your partner and your doctor will clear up any questions and make you feel secure when it comes to your sexual health.

How My IUD Made My Skin the Best It's Ever Been

Last summer, my family and I attended the wedding of a close family friend. As the guests filed out onto the dance floor, my mother walked over to me while I was deep in conversation with some of the bride’s college-age cousins. The girls immediately turned red upon seeing an older adult approaching, and sensing their trepidation, I quickly changed the topic of conversation and excused myself and my mother.

“What were they so embarrassed about?” my mom asked as we walked away.

“Oh,” I said laughing, “We were all discussing IUDs, and I was telling them how much I love mine.”

Photo: Courtesy of MIMI Chatter

I’m completely and totally obsessed with my IUD, and no, I frankly don’t give a damn who knows about it. As women, we are taught from a very young age that our sexuality is something to hide, and that health matters that pertain to our reproductive systems are somehow less serious or important than those of our male counterparts. We are taught to hide our tampons, to covertly take our birth control pills, and to explain away any relevant health issues as “female issues,” lest we offend anyone by discussing how our bodies fundamentally work.

Yes, my IUD hurt when it was inserted. Yes, my cramps are moderately worse now. And yes, in my opinion, it is completely and totally worth it. Getting my copper IUD last year ended a 14-year saga of failed acne treatments and less than ideal birth control methods. I love my IUD so much I literally want to tell everyone about it.

I have always been self-conscious about my skin. For some women, the societal pressure to be thin hits them early, but I — as a gangly, over-tall preteen — was consumed by another perceived aesthetic, failing as soon as I entered middle school. I keenly remember slathering thick and sticky drugstore concealer all over my face and scouring the aisles of CVS for any new over-the-counter acne product that I thought might help eradicate the fledgling breakouts that continued to angrily appear on my face. When I finally got up the courage to ask my mother to see a dermatologist, I thought that the doctor would perform magic on all of my skin issues. But, the plethora of different topical ointments she prescribed always destroyed my sensitive skin and not my acne. I ended up on oral antibiotics for the later part of high school, as basically a last resort.

Almost a year after I first started oral antibiotics to treat my acne, the medicine was finally working despite a host of negative side effects, and I — as a sexually active, but perplexingly responsible young person — got myself a birth control prescription from my family doctor. It was then that my skin truly went off the rails. My face was covered with cystic acne, I began to slowly gain weight, and my moods became increasingly unstable. And, I quickly discovered that it was extremely difficult for me (a self-confessed Type B person), to remember to take a pill at an exact time every single day. Moreover, some types of antibiotics — so far the only type of acne treatment that had worked on my skin — had been found to also possibly leave birth control less effective. Meaning, in short, what the hell was I doing to myself, and why?

When I entered college I was told for the first time ever that maybe my acne had something to do with my hormones — I broke out around my mouth and chin — and my hormonal birth control was making it worse and not better. What followed was A LOT of experimentation, as I was slowly exposed to different birth control options that I had never heard of before (hello, birth control patch!), to find a method that I could both remember to take and that didn’t destroy my face.

Photo: Courtesy of MIMI Chatter

When I explained this saga to my gynecologist post-college, she looked at me with a bit of surprise on her face.

“Well,” she said, “why haven’t you considered getting an IUD?”

I was confused at first — weren’t IUDs only for women who had already had kids? Didn’t they hurt a ton? And couldn’t they make you sterile?

Apparently, no. My doctor patiently explained to me that a lot of the myths that used to be pervasive about IUDs were completely untrue. It turns out, more and more doctors were recommending them to patients like myself — young women who had tried many other birth control methods and who had responded badly to hormones in the past. According to the Mayo Clinic, the copper IUD, or ParaGard, “offers effective, long-term contraception [and] it can be used in premenopausal women of all ages, including teenagers. Among various benefits, ParaGard can remain in place for up to 10 years and can be removed at any time, followed by a quick return to fertility.”

It didn’t take any more convincing; I was sold. I opted for the copper IUD — which doesn’t have any hormones — instead of the low-hormone Mirena, because I wanted to start treating my acne again with a completely clean slate. I also wanted to avoid the weight gain and mood shifts that had doggedly occurred whenever I used hormonal birth control methods. After a quick and relatively painless insertion process (seriously, it wasn’t that bad, eyebrow threading is worse), I left the office with moderate cramps and a brand new IUD chillin’ in my uterus.

I won’t lie, the first few days of cramps were not fun, and for a couple of months my period decided to act like I was in middle school again (according to the Mayo Clinic, “the side effects associated with the ParaGuard [copper IUD] include bleeding between periods and cramps,” but no acne, yay!). However, after about 3 months, I felt totally normal, and I was super pumped about two things: One, I never had to take birth control again for 10 years; and two, my skin had already started to clear up… without any antibiotics.

It’s been almost two years now and I’m still thrilled with my decision. Yes, not all women have trouble with hormonal birth control, and not all acne-sufferers will find that removing hormonal birth control from their lives will help them regulate their acne. But, for me, the copper IUD was that elusive magic bullet that helped me both manage my reproductive choices and my acne. My skin is infinitely more clear AND I get to have sex without worrying about having a kid any time soon (yay!). I’d call that a win-win.

Photo: Courtesy of MIMI Chatter

Photo: Courtesy of MIMI Chatter

 

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This article originally appeared on www.mimichatter.com

How to Buy the Morning-After Pill Without Setting Foot in a Pharmacy

Accidents happen—and when your usual method of birth control fails, it can be stressful to figure out the easiest, fastest way to get your hands on the morning-after pill to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

If you live in the U.S., levonorgestrel morning-after pills like Plan B One-Step are available over-the-counter in every state, says Katharine O’Connell White, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University and director at the Fellowship in Family Planning. She tells Health that you can find morning-after pills at your local pharmacy or family planning clinic such as Planned Parenthood, as well as some hospitals and doctor’s offices. You should never need to provide your age, an ID, or a prescription in order to buy them.

Plan B is the most common levonorgestrel morning-after pill on the market, but there are others, too, such as My Way, Next Choice One Dose, and Take Action. All contain the same ingredient, a synthetic form of progestin that works to prevent the ovary from releasing an egg. According to Planned Parenthood, Plan B usually costs a little more than the other brands, but they’re all equally effective. (Plan B is “like the Kleenex of emergency contraception,” notes Dr. White, “but the brand doesn’t matter.”)

If you live in a rural area, don’t have a reliable form of transportation, or just want some privacy, it might not be convenient for you to go to a pharmacy or clinic IRL. Luckily, within the past few years, more and more buying options have emerged for the morning-after pill—including online.

“It’s nice that there are so many options to get emergency contraception on your own without having to go through any gatekeepers,” says Dr. White. Still, there are a few things you should keep in mind before you click “add to cart.” Here’s how to safely shop for the morning-after pill without leaving your house. 

RELATED: How Many Times Can You Actually Take Plan B? Asking For a Friend

Stocking up ahead of time is smart

“Emergency contraception is sort of like Band-Aids,” says Dr. White. “You don’t buy a Band-Aid when you cut yourself; ideally you would have bought them in advance and had them in your medicine cabinet when you need them.” She recommends that all her patients who are having sex with men, don’t have an IUD or their tubes tied, and don’t want to get pregnant have some form of emergency contraception in their homes at all times.

For this reason, if you’re not in a rush, buying the morning-after pill online can be convenient and a good way to quickly stock up, providing you’re getting it from a reputable source (more on that later).

Timing is really important

When you’re buying emergency contraception online for a “just in case” scenario, shipping speed isn’t a huge concern. But it’s important to remember that levonorgestrel morning-after pills have up to an 89% chance of preventing pregnancy–when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The longer you wait, the less effective they’ll be. So, if you didn’t stock up on emergency contraception ahead of time (which, to be fair, many of us probably don’t), waiting for a product to ship could increase your risk of unplanned pregnancy.

There’s more than one type of emergency contraception

Morning-after pills that contain levonorgestrel are the only form of emergency contraception approved for over-the-counter use, and as a result, they’re the most well known. But there’s also Ella, a prescription-only morning-after pill that contains ulipristal acetate and is effective up to five days after unprotected sex.

There’s also a form of emergency contraception that isn’t a pill at all. “Copper IUDs are the most effective form of emergency contraception,” says Dr. White. The copper IUD can lower your chances of getting pregnant by more than 99%, and it can be inserted up to five days after unprotected sex.

Most people will probably be deciding between Plan B and Ella; the latter is usually a little more expensive and not quite as widely available as Plan B. Your weight matters, too: Levonorgestrel pills lose their effectiveness in women who have BMIs over 26, while Ella starts to lose its effectiveness at BMIs of 35. (And no, taking two Plan B pills won’t make a difference: “It’s not just a matter of the dose, it’s how the medication works,” says Dr. White.)

RELATED: The Most Effective Birth Control, Ranked

Where to shop online

Levonorgestrel morning-after pills are available at a number of online retailers, including walmart.com, cvs.com, and amazon.com. Once again, consider ship times: Walmart and CVS offer free two-day shipping, as does Amazon for Prime members, but waiting that long could drastically up your risk of pregnancy if you need the pill right now.

If it’s not urgent, though, afterpill.com is a good choice; while the site doesn’t offer expedited shipping, the prices are much more affordable. The site also clearly notes expiration dates, an important feature, according to Dr. White. “Levonorgestrel pills usually last 18 to 24 months, and if you’re buying ahead, the expiration date really matters,” she says.

Although you need a prescription for Ella, it’s still possible to buy it online on the websites kwikmed.comellanow.com, and prjktruby.com. “These websites will include a physician consultation as part of the product, then include a prescription as part of that consult,” Dr. White says. For added convenience, Kwikmed can also transfer a prescription directly to your local pharmacy, she adds.

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But online might not be the cheapest option

You don’t need a prescription to get Plan B. But if cost is a concern, Dr. White recommends calling your doctor to ask for a prescription anyway, since if you have one, you will most likely only pay the cost of the copay. Medicaid also usually covers Plan B, she adds, and Ella is covered by “the vast majority” of health insurances.

“Most should be willing to call in a prescription for you over the phone without having to go in for a visit,” says Dr. White. “So, the cheapest option of all may be to call your doctor’s office first.”

What the Supreme Court Birth Control Ruling Means to You

Thanks to Obamacare, most health plans have fully covered contraception since 2013. Will the Hobby Lobby court decision change what you pay? Here’s the lowdown.
This morning the nation’s highest court weighed in on a topic usually reserved for the doctor’s office or bedroom. In a 5-4 vote, the court ruled that the Affordable Care Act cannot require closely held, for-profit corporations to provide health insurance that covers contraception services for women when those services go against their religious beliefs. The anxiously awaited decision could have far-ranging implications for religious freedom and health reform.

Women and their partners, though, are likely wondering what the decision means for the cost of birth control. Here’s what you need to know.

What is the health insurance benefit at the center of this fight?

Starting last year, you no longer had to fork over any cash to buy contraception (aside from the premium you paid). Under Obamacare, most insurance plans, both individual and group policies, must fully cover preventive services designed to keep you healthy, such as mammograms, colonoscopies, and many vaccinations. After the Affordable Care Act was passed, the Institute of Medicine recommended that contraception be included on that list of no-cost services, says Judy Waxman, the vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center.

That has meant that most health plans must cover the full range of contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including pills, rings, patches, shots, implants, intrauterine devices, barrier methods, and sterilization procedures. For each of these services, as long as you have a prescription from the doctor, you’ll pay nothing.

There are a few nuances. For example, if a drug comes in a generic version and you opt for the brand name, you may owe a co-pay or co-insurance (although there is a waiver process that grants you access to the premium drug at no cost if your doctor asserts you need it for a medical reason).

Previously, large group plans typically covered contraception but you had to cover a co-pay or co-insurance, according to David Dross, who runs the pharmacy practice at benefits consultant Mercer. You also owed your deductible before the coverage kicked in. So you may have paid the full cost for, say, ten months.

On Friday the Department of Health and Human Services announced that an additional 24.4 million prescriptions for oral contraceptives were given out with no co-pays in 2013 compared to 2012.

So what was the legal battle over?

In this case two for-profit companies, the big box craft chain store Hobby Lobby and cabinet maker Conestoga Wood, argued that they view certain types of contraception, such as morning after-pills Plan B and ella, akin to abortion and in violation of their Christian religious beliefs. They asked to be exempt from paying for those services.

Will the ruling change my insurance coverage?

If you work for a large, publicly traded company, the decision will likely not change what your birth control costs, says Waxman. The ruling specifies that only “closely held” firms, or those owned by a small number of individuals, with sincerely held religious beliefs can qualify for an exemption. So you’re unlikely to see a Fortune 500 company strip these services from their health plans any time soon.

While it’s unclear how many firms could potentially qualify for the exemption, workers at any firms that do won’t necessarily be left paying for their pills. “The administration will likely by regulation put some type of work-around in place,” to give workers the benefit, says Tim Jost, a law professor and Affordable Care Act expert at Washington and Lee University. “I just don’t know how long it will take them to do it. They may be prepared to do it very quickly.”

What if I work at a non-profit with a religious affiliation, such as a Catholic hospital or university?

Religious organizations such as churches were already exempt from the requirement that they cover all types of FDA-approved contraception. Separately, religious-affiliated non-profits, including universities and hospitals, were granted a workaround by the Obama administration. Workers in those firms still have access to contraception at no cost. The companies simply turn over the administration and cost to the health insurer. There are legal suits working their way through the court system fighting this accommodation, though. Based on today’s ruling, Jost says it seems that the court may be implicitly saying this work-around is permissible.
This article originally appeared on Money.com

How Many Times Can You Actually Take Plan B? Asking For a Friend

When your regular form of birth control fails—whether it’s a broken condom or missed oral contraceptive—taking the morning-after pill as soon as possible can help prevent an unplanned pregnancy. While it’s perfectly safe to take the morning-after pill, should you be concerned if you’ve taken it more than once, or even countless times? And could it affect your ability to get pregnant in the future? We asked experts to weigh in.

The most common morning-after pills are over-the-counter tablets containing higher doses of levonorgestrel, a synthetic progestin hormone that is also in oral contraceptives. These pills work by preventing the ovary from releasing an egg, which in turn means you don’t ovulate, lowering the risk of male sperm fertilizing an egg. You might know them by their brand names, such as Next Choice One Dose, Take Action, My Way, or the most well-known, Plan B One Step.

Important disclaimer: Although morning-after pills aren’t 100% effective at preventing a pregnancy, they can reduce the risk by 75-89%, according to Planned Parenthood. If you have unprotected sex, you should take Plan B as soon as possible; they work best within the first three days after sex.

While the morning-after pill won’t have harmful long-term effects on your body, taking it multiple times can turn your hormones upside-down, says Sherry A. Ross, MD, a Los Angeles-based ob-gyn and author of She-ology ($26; amazon.com). “It’s temporarily harmful in that you will have irregular bleeding and may feel emotionally unraveled,” she tells Health. “But once you stop taking it, your body will have the opportunity to reset.”

Orlando-based ob-gyn Christine Greves, MD, a fellow of the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology, agrees with Dr. Ross. You might experience unpleasant side effects after taking Plan B, she explains, including nausea and lower abdominal cramps in addition to irregular bleeding. But she stresses that these are short-term effects.

Although taken less often, Ella, another type of morning-after pill available with a prescription, also won’t have long-term effects on your health, says Dr. Greves. But she does note that you shouldn’t take other forms of birth control pills that contain progesterone for at at least five days after using Ella, because it could interfere with the pill’s effectiveness.

However, if you’ve taken the morning-after pill for the umpteenth time, you might want to speak to your gynecologist about alternate contraceptive options, says Bat-Sheva Lerner Maslow, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Extend Fertility, pointing out that it’s better to have a reliable form of contraception than constantly turning to emergency ones. If you struggle to remember to take birth control pills, for example, long-term contraception such as an intrauterine device (IUD) can make forgetfulness a non-issue. A copper IUD, for example, “is more than 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy, and can be kept in for up to 10 years.”

So, say you had unprotected sex and took the morning-after pill. Would that same pill prevent pregnancy if you then had unprotected sex again a few days after taking it? (Hey, accidents happen.) To play it safe, it’s best to take Plan B after every unprotected sexual encounter, experts say.

“In theory, it should cover you until your next period because of the changes it causes in the uterine lining,” says Dr. Maslow, “but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend relying on it as a proactive form of birth control.”

And can taking Plan B make it difficult to get pregnant when you do want to down the road? Fortunately, all experts we polled were in agreement on this: The morning-after pill won’t have any long-term affects on your future fertility. Phew! 

You Can Now Get Birth Control From an App, Without Seeing a Doctor. Here’s What to Know Before You Try It

In this day and age, you can order pretty much anything online and get it delivered to your door—including protection against unplanned pregnancies. A number of companies have sprung up in the last few years that allow women in certain states to request birth control pills and other contraceptive methods via the Internet, sometimes without even seeing a doctor.

These suppliers—with catchy names like Maven, Nurx, Lemonaid, and Pandia Health—offer convenience and confidentiality to women who may be too busy to squeeze in a visit to their gynecologist or nervous about picking up their prescription at a local pharmacy. And according to a recent NPR article, they’re gaining popularity in rural parts of the country sometimes called “contraception deserts” that lack easy access to women’s health services.

But is getting a birth control prescription online really safe? And is it a good option for everyone? Health spoke with Sophia Yen, MD, CEO and co-founder of Pandia Health. (Yes, she’s got skin in the game, but she’s also got real medical cred: She’s a clinical associate professor of pediatrics and adolescent health at Stanford University and a member of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals.) Here’s why Dr. Yen jumped into the online market, and what experts say about the science and safety behind these services.

Online consultations can do almost everything in-person visits can

Customers can use companies like Pandia Health to fill existing birth-control prescriptions they receive from their doctor—but if they don’t have an Rx, they can usually get one in just a few simple steps.

On Pandia’s website, for example, users answer a series of questions about their health and are asked to submit a blood-pressure reading. “If you’ve been to a doctor’s office in the last year, you can ask them to send it over—or you can go to most pharmacies or grocery stores to have [blood pressure] checked, too” says Dr. Yen.

Some birth control delivery apps require a phone call or video conferencing instead of an online questionnaire. Regardless, the point of these evaluations is for a doctor to make sure that women don’t have existing health issues that could raise the risks associated with birth control pills. If you get certain types of migraine headaches, have a history of blood clots or stroke, or if you smoke, for example, your request could be denied.

RELATED: 7 Health Benefits of Birth Control Nobody Talks About

Doctors support the idea of fewer barriers to birth control

In 2012 and again in 2016, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued position statements advocating that oral contraceptives be sold over the counter, without a prescription. “That’s already the case in China and in many European countries, because they know that the benefits of preventing unplanned pregnancies and making women’s lives easier outweigh the risks,” says Dr. Yen.

In fact, ACOG’s position statements cite research showing that when women use a self-screening checklist—similar to the health questionnaires used by these apps—they are more likely to identify risk factors that could make birth control dangerous than their doctors are.

While a doctor’s prescription is still required in most states, Dr. Yen says ACOG’s statements gave her the confidence to invest in telemedicine and to issue prescriptions over the Internet. And it’s paying off, she says: Already, her company has helped many women get contraception who never had it before.

“We thought we’d get a lot of 18-year-old customers, but we’re also getting 23-year-olds who have never been on birth control,” she says. “When we ask them what they’ve been doing for protection, they say condoms, withdrawal, and prayer. Thank goodness now they have a better option.”

RELATED: The Most Effective Birth Control, Ranked

Cost can still be an issue

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, birth control is free for most women with health insurance. But these apps may still charge a fee for a doctor’s consultation. Pandia Health’s fee, for example, is $39 if you opt for mail delivery of your meds, or $59 if you choose to fill your Rx at a pharmacy.

Uninsured customers, on the other hand, must pay upfront for birth control pills. These companies offer medications at several different price points, but even low-cost, generic options (which run about $15 a month) can be prohibitive for low-income women, says Kyl Myers, PhD, a sociologist and research associate in the University of Utah’s department of obstetrics and gynecology. 

“These apps can be really great for people with insurance or who can afford out-of-pocket care,” says Myers, who leads a University of Utah and Planned Parenthood initiative to provide free birth control to women in Salt Lake County. “But we need to make sure that all women have access to affordable contraception.”

RELATED: 5 Times Celebs Got Candid About Their Birth Control

In-person visits are still a good idea, if they’re doable

Dr. Yen still recommends seeing a doctor in person “if it’s doable for you,” especially if you have questions about which type of birth control is best for you. (Pandia Health offers the pill, the patch, or the ring.) “We’re here to give you access,” she says, “but having a provider talk you through your options is always better if you’re a newbie.”

Seeing a doctor in person is also a good way to make sure you’re up-to-date on important screenings. A face-to-face visit can give you a chance to bring up any health-related questions or concerns you might have as well. But it’s those issues that should determine when and how often a woman sees her doctor, says Myers. “If nothing’s changed with your health or your sex life, you shouldn’t have to go every 12 months just to get your prescription renewed,” she says.

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If you want an IUD or implant, you still need to see a doctor

Another drawback of these online subscription services is that they can’t provide implants or intrauterine devices (IUDs), which have been shown to be the most effective forms of birth control on the market. “I always encourage patients to learn about and consider the IUD, but you do need to visit a doctor to have it inserted,” says Dr. Yen.

Myers agrees. “These apps are a step in the right direction, but we need to be making sure people have access to a whole range of effective contraceptive methods,” she says, “not just to user-dependent methods like the pill, the patch, or the ring.”

Birth Control Pills May Help Prevent Some Cancers

In the U.S., nearly all sexually active women have used a form of birth control at some point in their lives, and 11 million women rely on the pill.

In a new study published in JAMA Oncology, researchers explore how oral contraceptives, which affect women’s hormone levels to prevent pregnancy, affect cancer risk. They found that women taking the pill lowered their risks of ovarian and endometrial cancer—a known benefit of the pill. The researchers also analyzed other factors that might affect the risk, including obesity, smoking status and physical activity levels.

In addition to finding that the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers were lower among women who used the pill, the study found that the longer women were on oral contraceptives, the lower their risk was. For those taking the pill for 10 years or more, the risk of ovarian cancer was 40% lower compared to women who had never used the pill or used them for less than a year, and 34% lower for endometrial cancer.

That confirms what earlier studies found, but the current study also delved deeper into how oral contraceptives and cancer risk differed among women with different risk factors for cancer. When the scientists looked at lifestyle factors that might affect the cancer risk among pill users, for example, they found that women who used the pill and were obese, smoked or did not exercise had among the lowest ovarian cancer rates. It’s not clear why, but the researchers speculate that in the case of smokers, there may be some interaction among the hormones associated with oral contraceptives and tobacco.

“We found long-term oral contraceptive use reduced ovarian cancer risk universally — it didn’t matter how healthy you were later in life or if you had a family history of the disease; all women experienced the benefit,” said Britton Trabert, the study’s senior author and epidemiologist from the division of cancer epidemiology and genetics at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

MORE: Birth Control for Men? Researchers Will Test a Hormone Gel in 2018

For endometrial cancer, women who were obese and used the pill for 10 years or more lowered their risk of developing the cancer, while women who were normal weight and used oral contraceptives did not.

The study’s findings about breast cancer were less conclusive. Previous studies found that women who use oral contraceptives, which include both estrogen and progestin hormones that have been linked to cancer growth, have a 20% to 30% higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who don’t use the pill. The current study found no significant change in breast cancer risk among oral contraceptive users compared to non-users, but the researchers say that may be due to the fact that most of the women in their study were older and past menopause, meaning they had likely stopped using birth control for many years.

Though the results don’t establish the pill as an anti-cancer therapy quite yet, the authors say, they are intriguing enough for women to start discussing with their doctors their personal risk factors for cancer and how going on the pill could potentially affect that risk. “Oral contraceptives are primarily used for preventing pregnancy and managing menstrual cycle symptoms,” says Kara Michels, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at NCI. “Our study indicates that for women with different underlying cancer risks when they are older, their earlier oral contraceptive use is likely still beneficial for cancer prevention. Better understanding of the risks and benefits of these medications may help physicians and their patients make informed decisions about using oral contraceptives.”

16 Worst Birth Control Mistakes

The antibiotic rifampin can undermine hormonal contraception, including the pill, the patch (Ortho Evra), or the vaginal ring (NuvaRing).


Some anticonvulsants, oral medications for yeast infections, HIV drugs, and the herbal supplement St. John’s wort can also be a problem for these types of birth control, as well as for contraceptive implants (Implanon), according to Planned Parenthood.


Bottom line? Check with your doctor about possible interactions and medications that can make your birth control less effective.

7 Guys Explain Everything They Know About Birth Control

Are men really that clueless about birth control? We asked them.

In case you missed it, we’ve started a series where we ask men to tell us everything they know about women’s bodies and health topics, such as menopause, boobs, and birth control. As you’ll see in the clip above, their responses are often questionable, sometimes (sort of) accurate, and always hilarious. 

For this installment, we started off asking seven men to explain what an IUD is. Once they established that it was different from a UTI (those pesky abbreviations!), they took a stab at what the letters actually stand for. “Infectious urinary tract disease?” one guessed. Other attempts included words like ‘incision’ and ‘diaphragm.’ Luckily one participant correctly labeled an IUD as an intrauterine device, the T-shaped birth control method that is inserted into the uterus by an ob-gyn and prevents pregnancy for up to 12 years. 

WATCH THE VIDEO: 6 Birth Control Mistakes You Didn’t Realize You Were Making

Next we discussed diaphragms. Two in-the-know dudes got it right when they said a diaphragm is a device that goes inside the vagina to block the cervix and stop sperm from entering a woman’s body. Bravo. 

Finally, we wanted to see how many birth control methods the men could name. Apart from thinking that the birth control pill and plan B (which is a form of emergency contraception) work the same way, they did fairly well. Condoms, diaphragms, the pill, the morning after pill, IUDs, shots, implants, vaginal rings, and abstinence all made the list. Other options that went unmentioned include the birth control patch or straight-up sterilization. Good job, boys! 

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What You Need to Know if You Take the Pill and You’re Worried About Your Breast Cancer Risk

As convenient and reliable as it is, hormonal birth control is not without its risks. In a new study of 1.8 million Danish women published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that current or recent use of hormonal contraceptives increased a woman’s breast cancer odds by 20%.

That sounds alarming, but should you trash your pill pack over it? “This is certainly nothing that would damn someone from taking the pill,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of ob-gyn at Yale School of Medicine. “This is another study that shows a very slight increased risk of hormonal birth control—especially with long-term use.”

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Previously studies, she explains, have shown that a woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer rises slightly while she is on hormonal birth control, but that small uptick disappears several years after she stops. The new study focused on women who were currently on or had recently gone off hormonal BC; it also looked at shorter and longer-term use. Women who used hormonal birth control for less than a year had a 9% higher risk of breast cancer, while those on it for 10 years or more had a 38% higher risk, researchers found.

Those numbers seem pretty major, but in general, they translate into a modest change in breast cancer risk. That 20% increased odds amount to approximately one extra case of breast cancer for every 7,690 women using hormonal birth control per year, according to the study.

So is the ease of the pill worth the additional risk? It depends. “Medicine is about risks, benefits, and alternatives,” says Christine Greves, MD, ob-gyn at Orlando Health Hospital in Florida. “You need to weigh the risks of hormonal birth control against the benefits.” For some women, simply not getting pregnant is top priority, and “hormonal contraception is excellent at preventing pregnancy,” she says.

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Or maybe it’s more important to you that hormonal birth control offers protection from ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancers, if one or more of these cancers runs in your family. Perhaps the pill makes your killer menstrual cramps disappear. “There are a lot of variables and a whole lot of health benefits of hormonal birth control,” Dr. Minkin says. “It’s not an automatic, ‘No you shouldn’t take it’ or ‘Yes you should.’”

Ideally, women should talk to their healthcare provider and go through the pros and cons of different types before selecting the best method for their needs. This is when you should take into account any individual health risks (like if you already have an increased risk of breast cancer due to a genetic mutation, says Dr. Greves) and your personal preferences (such as your level of comfort with having an IUD inserted).

If you don’t want to totally give up hormonal birth control but are worried about breast cancer, consider using it for a shorter amount of time. “The shorter the time, the less of an issue” breast cancer risk becomes, Dr. Minkin says. If you’re really nervous, you and your doctor might decide to go off it because of that fear alone. “If you’re anxious about it, stop!” Dr. Minkin says. “If someone says ‘Every time I take a pill I’m going to be terrified!’ I’m going to say, ‘Let’s not use the pill!’” 

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Just remember, once you drop hormonal birth control, you need a backup method if you don’t want to get pregnant, Dr. Minkin cautions. “If you’re terrified, pick up some condoms, start using them today, then go talk to your healthcare provider” about other options.

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