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Ann Epidemiol. 2015 Mar;25(3):193-200. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2014.11.004. Epub 2014 Nov 13.

Oral contraceptives and menopausal hormone therapy: relative and attributable risks of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other health outcomes.

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Division of Preventive Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. Electronic address:
Division of Preventive Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.



To summarize the relative risks (RRs) and attributable risks (ARs) of major health outcomes associated with use of combined oral contraceptives (OCs) and menopausal hormone therapy (HT).


For OCs, measures of association are from meta-analyses of observational studies. For HT, these measures are from the Women's Health Initiative, a large randomized trial of HT for chronic disease prevention in postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 years.


Current OC use increases risks of venous thromboembolism and ischemic stroke. However, women of reproductive age are at low baseline risk, so the ARs are small. OC use also increases risk of breast and liver cancer and reduces risk of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancer; the net effect is a modest reduction in total cancer. The Women's Health Initiative results show that HT does not prevent coronary events or overall chronic disease in postmenopausal women as a whole. Subgroup analyses suggest that timing of HT initiation influences the relation between such therapy and coronary risk, and its overall risk-benefit balance, with more favorable effects (on a relative scale) in younger or recently menopausal women than in older women or those further past the menopausal transition. However, even if the RR do not vary by these characteristics, the low absolute baseline risks of younger or recently menopausal women translate into low ARs in this group.


OC and HT can safely be used for contraception and treatment of vasomotor symptoms, respectively, by healthy women at low baseline risk for cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.


Attributable risk; Attributable risk percent; Cancer; Coronary heart disease; Menopausal hormone therapy; Oral contraceptives; Relative risk; Stroke; Venous thromboembolism; Women

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