How long can I safely take birth control pills?

Answers from Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso, M.D.

You can take birth control pills as long as you need birth control or until you reach menopause, as long as you're generally healthy. This applies to combination and progestin-only birth control pills for women who are nonsmokers and progestin-only birth control pills for younger women who are smokers.

Birth control pills aren't recommended for certain women, however, including smokers age 35 or older and women who have certain medical conditions, such as blood-clotting disorders or uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Some research suggests that prolonged use of birth control pills increases the risk of cervical cancer. However, use of birth control pills also decreases the risk of other types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer.

The effect of birth control pills on breast cancer risk isn't clear. Some research indicates that birth control pills slightly increase the risk of breast cancer — but that 10 or more years after stopping the pill, a woman's breast cancer risk returns to the same level as if she had never taken birth control pills. (2, p2) Other studies don't support a link between birth control pills and breast cancer.

Taking an occasional break from birth control pills offers no benefits and may increase the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. If you're concerned about long-term use of birth control pills, discuss the risks and benefits with your health care provider. He or she can help you weigh the pros and cons of other types of contraception as well.

With

Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso, M.D.

Jan. 16, 2015