More research needed on effectiveness of oral contraceptive use for prevention of ovarian cancer

Women’s Health

Current evidence is inconclusive to recommend for or against the use of oral contraceptives solely for the prevention of ovarian cancer, according to a recent research review by AHRQ and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The review does find that the use of oral contraceptives may increase life expectancy by one month when noncontraceptive benefits are included (e.g., reduced deaths from ovarian, colorectal, and endometrial cancers). However, the harm/benefit ratio of oral contraceptives for ovarian cancer prevention alone is uncertain when the increased risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, and cardiovascular events associated with oral contraceptive use are taken into consideration. Photograph of an oral contraceptive pill case.

The overall strength of evidence for oral contraceptives in preventing ovarian cancer is moderate to low, primarily because of the lack of well-designed clinical trials and inconsistent reporting of important information, including the duration of use of oral contraceptives. More well-designed research studies are needed to determine whether the use of oral contraceptives solely to prevent ovarian cancer can be recommended when considering their demonstrated risks. 

Although it is the eighth most common cancer in women, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death. The overall 5-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is only 42 percent, compared with 88 percent for breast cancer and 63 percent for colorectal cancer. This is due in large part to the later stage at presentation compared with other common cancers. Because of the challenges inherent in screening and treatment for ovarian cancer, identifying effective primary prevention strategies is an important approach for reducing morbidity and mortality. 

These findings are available in the research review, Oral Contraceptive Use for the Primary Prevention of Ovarian Cancer, at http://go.usa.gov/jb7B.

Current as of August 2013
Internet Citation: More research needed on effectiveness of oral contraceptive use for prevention of ovarian cancer: Women’s Health. August 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/13aug/0813RA32.html