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Ovarian Cancer and Oral Contraceptives

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Ovarian cancer is an especially deadly form of cancer because it often goes undetected until it spreads to a vital organ and disrupts the organ's functioning. Thus, it earned the name "silent killer." While an estimated 13,580 women have passed away in 2010 due to cervical cancer, this number is gradually decreasing. Doctors and researchers believe that the increasing use of oral contraceptives plays a role in ovarian cancer's decrease.

Ovarian cancer can begin with three different tumor types on and around the ovary. These small, almond-shaped organs can mutate and develop tumors in the epithelium, which is the thin layer of tissue that covers the ovaries. This accounts for 85-90% of ovarian cancer cases. Two rarer forms of tumors begin in the actual egg-producing cells, or germ cells, as well as the supportive and hormone-producing tissue, called stromal tumors.

From here, ovarian cancer can spread in two different ways. It can leach into nearby tissue, such as the pelvis, cervix, and lower digestive system. Additionally, pieces of the tumor can break off and spread through the circulatory and lymph systems. From here, the tumors can anchor themselves anywhere in the body and begin to grow again.

In a study conducted by the Harvard Medical School, researchers found that even using oral contraceptives for one year decreased a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer by 10-12%. After five years of using oral birth control, the risk dropped by half. At first, doctors found that this reduction in cancer rates occurred no matter the hormone in the oral contraceptive. However, a more in-depth study found that a higher level of progestin decreased the cancer risk better than low-progestin pills.

While many women turn to oral contraceptives solely to prevent unwanted pregnancy, it also has the proven benefit of protecting you from ovarian cancer as well. Frustratingly, though, not all birth control pills are created equally. Some, such as YAZ, Yasmin, and Ocella, have been linked to devastating side effects such as stroke and heart attack.

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