Zee Media Bureau
London: A major study has linked widespread use of oral contraceptives to the fall in deaths from ovarian cancer worldwide.
Scientists say deaths from ovarian cancer have fallen worldwide in 10 years (between 2002 and 2012), thanks to use of the contraceptive pill. They say that the trend is likely to continue in the US, European Union (EU) and, though to a smaller degree, in Japan by 2020.
"The main reason for the favourable trends is the use of oral contraceptives (OCs), particularly, in the USA and countries of the EU where OCs were introduced earlier," the study said.
Decline in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to manage menopausal symptoms and better diagnosis and treatment may also play a role, they added.
Using data on deaths from ovarian cancer from 1970 to the most recent available year from the World Health Organisation, the researchers found that in the 28 countries of the EU (minus Cyprus due to the unavailability of data) death rates decreased by 10 per cent between 2002 and 2012, from an age standardised death rate per 100,000 women of 5.76 to 5.19.
In the UK, deaths from ovarian cancer have fallen 22% in 10 years, which fell from 7.5 to 5.9 per 100,000 women.
The decline was even greater in the US, with a 16 per cent drop in death rates from 5.76 per 100,000 in 2002 to 4.85 in 2012.
Among European countries, the percentage decrease ranged from 0.6 per cent in Hungary to over 28 per cent in Estonia, while Bulgaria was the only European country to show an apparent increase.
"The large variations in death rates between European countries have reduced since the 1990s when there was a threefold variation across Europe from 3.6 per 100,000 in Portugal to 9.3 in Denmark," said lead researcher Carlo La Vecchia, Professor at University of Milan in Italy.
"This is likely to be due to more uniform use of oral contraceptives across the continent, as well as reproductive factors, such as how many children a woman has," La Vecchia said.
While most women have one or more risk factors for ovarian cancer, using oral contraceptives can lessen their risk of developing the disease.
According to American Cancer Society, women who used oral contraceptives for 5 or more years have about a 50% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer compared with women who never used oral contraceptives.
However, birth control pills can have some serious risks and side effects. Therefore, women should first discuss the possible risks and benefits with their doctor before taking the pills.
The study has been published in the journal Annals of Oncology.