June 2023 | George M. Pikler, M.D., Ph.D., FACP

Breast Cancer Risk From Oral Contraceptives

Hormonal contraceptives are available in different preparations: oral combined estrogen-progesterone, oral progesterone-only, injectable progesterone, progesterone implant, or progesterone intrauterine device. The first two are the most commonly used, although the second one is growing in popularity.

All types of hormonal contraceptives carry a small increased risk of breast cancer. A study of around 30,000 women found that 44% of those with breast cancer and 39% of those without breast cancer had a prescription for a hormonal contraceptive around three years before diagnosis. Half of the women took the progesterone-only pill and half took a combined oral contraceptive pill (estrogen and progesterone). The risk of breast cancer was higher in older women.

The use of progesterone-only pills is associated with a 20-30% higher risk of breast cancer, according to data analysis by University of Oxford researchers. Their analysis is based on data from 9,498 women who developed invasive breast cancer between ages 20 to 49, and 18,171 closely matched women without breast cancer. They concluded that the risk was small and should not discourage most women from taking them. By contrast, the pill protects against ovarian and endometrial cancers.

PLoS Medicine 2023; 20(3), March 21.

Erica Cross, PA


Erica is a board certified Physician Assistant. She obtained her Master’s degree in Physician Assistant studies from Our Lady of the Lake College in Baton Rouge, LA. She began practicing in 2011 and has worked clinically in Orthopedics and Dermatology. The majority of her career has been spent in a Dermatology practice where she assisted in Mohs surgery, treating various types of skin cancer. She also teaches in the medical simulation department at the University of South Alabama and enjoys every aspect of medical education.