Newspapers like using big headlines – it's what sells their papers. So a heading claiming that 'Taking The Pill Doubles Cancer Risk' is not that unusual – even if it is slanting the truth. The reason I say slanting is because, although the headline would technically be true, it does not provide any context.
According to Sir David Spiegelhalter, a professor at Cambridge University, 'Even if oral contraceptives did increase the risk to the extent suggested by this study, it would only mean one extra glioma each year for every 50,000 women taking the pill.' So without the contraceptive pill there is a one in 50,000 chance that you will develop an illness, and with it there is a 2 in 50,000 chance… the odds are still almost entirely in your favor.
Spiegelhalter went on to add, 'Suppose, however, all these women changed to a less effective form of contraception and 10,000 of them got pregnant: we would then expect one extra mother and 40 extra babies to die.'
The point is that, without the right information, any statistic can be used to paint whichever picture the publication prefers. For example, did you know that 100% of all smokers and drinkers are going to die? Taken out of context that fact could easily become a eye-catching, technically correct, paper selling headline.
Paul Pharoah, another Cambridge professor, has also disputed the claim, arguing that 'the findings are somewhat contrary to the findings of other studies, which have reported either no association or a small reduction in risk of brain tumours associated with oral contraceptive pill use.'
With most medications there is a risk of side-effects, and those prescribing medication as well as those manufacturing it are legally obliged to make them clear. The risks though, are usually very minor and if they were not –if the pill did contribute to huge health risks, for example – then it is likely that the medication would not be prescribed. The majority would agree that the benefits of the pill outweigh the risks, indeed, as Professor Spiegelhalter mentioned, pregnancy carries a greater risk than using hormonal contraception.
Perhaps the best advice anyone can give is to judge the potential risks based on your personal feelings. It's always a good idea to seek the advice of medical professionals if you are thinking of taking a new treatment, and there's no harm in looking into the risks and benefits of the various contraceptive options yourself. It is important though, that you don't just take these shock headlines at face value and allow them to dissuade you from making use of a treatment that could help you manage your fertility and health.
If you are using the contraceptive pill our medical experts can help guide you on the best combined or progesterone only pill to be on.