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J Natl Cancer Inst. 1995 Jun 7;87(11):827-35.

Oral contraceptives and breast cancer risk among younger women.

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  • 1Environmental Epidemiology Branch, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.



Several studies have suggested a link between oral contraceptive use and breast cancer in younger women, but it is possible that chance or bias, including selective screening of contraceptive users, contributed to the putative association.


Given that oral contraceptives were first marketed in the United States in the early 1960s, we conducted a population-based case-control study to examine the relationship between use of oral contraceptives and breast cancer among women in a recently assembled cohort, focusing on women younger than 45 years of age who had the opportunity for exposure throughout their entire reproductive years.


Breast cancer patients and healthy control subjects were identified, the latter group by random-digit dialing, in Atlanta, Ga., Seattle/Puget Sound, Wash., and central New Jersey. In Seattle and New Jersey, the study was confined to women 20 through 44 years of age; in Atlanta the age range was extended through 54 years. Patients included women with in situ or invasive breast cancer newly diagnosed during the period of May 1, 1990, through December 31, 1992. In-person interviews were completed by 2203 (86.4%) of 2551 eligible patients and 2009 (78.1%) of 2571 eligible control subjects. Analyses focused on women younger than 45 years of age (1648 patients and 1505 control subjects) to maximize opportunities for extended exposure. Logistic regression analyses were used to obtain maximum likelihood estimates of relative risks (RRs) and their 95% confidence intervals (CIs).


Among women younger than 45 years, oral contraceptive use for 6 months or longer was associated with an RR for breast cancer of 1.3 (95% CI = 1.1-1.5). Risks were enhanced for breast cancers occurring prior to age 35 years (RR = 1.7; 95% CI = 1.2-2.6), with the RR rising to 2.2 (95% CI = 1.2-4.1) for users of 10 or more years. The RR for breast cancer for those whose oral contraceptive use began early (before age 18 years) and continued long-term (> 10 years) was even higher (RR = 3.1; 95% CI = 1.4-6.7). The RRs observed for those who used oral contraceptives within 5 years of cancer diagnosis were higher than for those who had not, with the effect most marked for women younger than age 35 years (RR = 2.0; 95% CI = 1.3-3.1). Oral contraceptive associations were also strongest for cancers diagnosed at advanced stages. Evaluation of screening histories and methods of diagnosis failed to support the speculation that associations could be due to selective screening. Among women 45 years of age and older, no associations of risk with use of oral contraceptives were noted.


The relationship between oral contraceptives and breast cancer in young women appears to have a biologic basis rather than to be an artifact or the result of bias.

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