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Breast cancer risk found for some women

©Associated Press
December 4, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Women with certain gene mutations have more than a 60 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Now a new study suggests the risk is even greater for these women if they used oral contraceptives at an early age or before 1975.

The study, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that among women with the BRCA1 gene mutation, taking the pill years ago increased the chances of developing breast cancer by 33 to 42 percent when compared with mutation carriers who did not take it.

Dr. Steven A. Narod, chairman of breast cancer research at the Centre for Research on Women's Health at the University of Toronto, said the study does not mean that modern birth control pills are dangerous for women with the breast cancer gene, but it does add a note of caution about how they should use the pill.

"The only women who had an increased risk started taking the pill before 1975. Also, they had to take it when they were young, under the age of 25," Narod said.

Modern birth control pills have only a fraction of the hormones that were present in birth control pills routinely used before 1975, he said.

Narod said the study also showed the risk increased if women started the pills before the age of 25 or if they took the oral contraceptives for longer than five years.

The study is based on an analysis of the health histories of more than 2,600 women in 11 countries, all of whom have mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Half of the women studied had taken birth control pills and half did not.

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