MANILA, Sept. 4, 2011—Researchers under the World Health Organization (WHO) have again confirmed that oral contraceptives can directly cause cancer – in another setback for lobbyists seeking billions of pesos in yearly taxpayer-funded subsidies to distribute pills nationwide for free under the “reproductive health” (RH) bill.
A monograph released just this year by a working group under the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) made an “overall evaluation” that “oral combined estrogen–progestogen contraceptives are carcinogenic to humans.”
The 2011 report classified the pill as a “Group 1” carcinogen, which means the highest level of evidence of cancer risk.
Other Group 1 carcinogens include asbestos, arsenic, formaldehyde, and plutonium.
“There is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of oral combined estrogen–progestogen contraceptives. Oral combined estrogen–progestogen contraceptives cause cancer of the breast, in-situ and invasive cancer of the uterine cervix, and cancer of the liver,” the 40-page section on oral contraceptive pills of the WHO-IARC monograph said.
This is the third time the Lyon, France-based IARC evaluated the carcinogenicity of pills, after earlier working groups formed in 1988 and 2005. Monographs were published in 1989 and 2007.
Synthesizing its review of scientific findings on the pill, the 2011 IARC monograph said: “A large body of evidence was evaluated for several organ sites, among which the Working Group concluded there are increased risks for cancer of the breast in young women among current and recent users only […].”
There was also increased risk for “in-situ and invasive cancer of the uterine cervix, and for cancer of the liver in populations that are at low risk for HBV [Hepatitis B virus] infection (this risk is presumably masked by the large risk associated with HBV infection in HBV-endemic populations),” the report said.
“In addition, for cancer of the uterine cervix, the magnitude of the associations is similar for in-situ and invasive disease, and the risks increase with duration of use, and decline after cessation of use,” it added.
While there are risks for breast, uterine cervix, and liver cancers, pills were considered “protective” against endometrial and ovarian cancers. But this was not enough to alter the WHO-IARC’s overall evaluation that oral combined estrogen–progestogen contraceptives are highly carcinogenic to humans.
The US National Cancer Institute, in an online fact sheet, had also acknowledged that pills could cause breast cancer, advising women “who are concerned about their risk for cancer … to talk with their health care provider.”
Pro-life groups have called on RH bill lobbyists to bare information on the dangerous side effects of pills and other contraceptives such as the IUD to the public, noting that the RH bill is being pushed under the pretext of “access to information” and “informed choice.”
Latest government data showed that only 16% of Filipino women use the pill. Only about 60% of pill users know about “possible side effects.” It was unclear what side effects were discussed by government health workers, and whether women were informed that pills are carcinogens. (Dominic Francisco)