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Study: Taking Oral Contraceptives Could Improve Future Ovarian Cancer Outcomes

Ovarian cancer patients who previously took oral contraceptives have better cancer outcomes, according to a study published last month in BMC Cancer, the Mayo Clinic News Network/Sacramento Bee reports.

Study Details

For the study, Mayo Clinic oncologist Aminah Jatoi and epidemiologist Ellen Goode assessed patient outcomes among 1,398 ovarian cancer patients treated at the Mayo Clinic between 2000 and 2013. According to patient records, 827 said they previously had taken birth control pills.

The researchers then used data from patients' electronic health records to perform two statistical analyses. In the first analysis, they found that patients who had used oral contraceptives had improved "progression-free survival" -- the length of time a patient lives without a disease worsening -- compared to those who had not taken the pill. The analysis also found that patients with a history of oral contraceptive use had improved survival, the length of time a patient lived regardless of severity of symptoms.

Meanwhile, the second analysis did not find a link between oral contraceptive use and overall ovarian cancer survival, but it did find a link between oral contraceptive use and progression-free survival.

Comments

Jatoi noted that while prior research has "indicated that oral contraceptives are associated with a reduced risk of ovarian cancer ... few studies have explored the connection between the pill and outcomes in patients who ultimately develop the disease."

Jatoi added the findings do not explain how oral contraceptives improve ovarian cancer outcomes, but the researchers said there are several hypotheses. One possibility is that by halting ovulation, oral contraceptives help prevent monthly changes to the ovary's surface. Contraceptives might curb the risk of DNA mutations, which could reduce the severity of cancer later (Mayo Clinic News Network/Sacramento Bee, 11/17).