Loretta from Barrow, United Kingdom asked:

Is it true that contraceptive implants cause breast cancer?

Contraceptive implants

Is it true that contraceptive implants can cause breast cancer? Why is there no information provided about this risk?

Our answer

Not enough studies have been done to determine the risk of developing breast cancer after using contraceptive implants. Contraceptive implants have been registered for use since the 1980s and are an effective way to prevent pregnancy. The implants are one or more flexible tubes that contain a hormone (progestogen). The tubes are inserted under the skin of the arm and slowly release the hormone over up to five years, depending on the brand. The implants registered for use in Australia are Implanon and Implanon NXT, both of which release hormone for three years. Like other hormonal contraceptives, implants work by inhibiting ovulation and making the mucus in the cervix thicker so that sperm cannot get through. While studies on contraceptive implants are limited, oral contraceptives (‘the pill’) have been well studied. In women who use the pill, the risk of developing breast cancer appears to be slightly higher than for women who have never used the pill, but this is usually still a low risk. The pill can actually help protect women against endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer. These effects may be similar for other hormonal contraceptives, including implants. Oral contraceptives usually combine two hormones (oestrogen and progestogen), whereas contraceptive implants only contain progestogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer found that there was not enough evidence to tell whether progestogen-only contraceptives could cause cancer. More studies need to be done before any conclusive information can be provided about the risk of developing cancer after using contraceptive implants. Some types of cancer, including breast cancer, can be sensitive to hormones, so women who have breast cancer should not use contraceptive implants. Regular check-ups with your doctor are important for all women who use hormonal contraceptives.

This page was last updated on: June 30, 2014
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