How long can I safely take birth control pills?
Answer 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 estrogen-progestin and progestin-only birth control pills. However, estrogen-containing birth control pills aren't recommended for certain women, including smokers age 35 or older and women who have certain medical conditions, such as blood-clotting disorders or uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Taking birth control pills may decrease the risk of some types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer. On the other hand, some research suggests that prolonged use of birth control pills increases the risk of cervical 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 birth control pills, breast cancer risk returns to the same level as for women who have never taken birth control pills. 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.
Feb. 14, 2018
Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso, M.D.
See more Expert Answers
- Martin KA, et al. Overview of the use of estrogen-progestin contraceptives. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 9, 2018.
- Kaunitz AM. Progestin-only pills (POPs) for contraception. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 9, 2018.
- Martin KA, et al. Risks and side effects associated with estrogen-progestin contraceptives. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 9, 2018.
- Oral contraceptives and cancer risk. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/oral-contraceptives. Accessed Jan. 10, 2018.
- Hatcher RA, et al. Combined oral contraceptives (COCs). In: Contraceptive Technology. 20th ed. New York, N.Y.: Ardent Media Ltd.; 2011.
- Hatcher RA, et al. Combined (estrogen & progestin) contraceptives. In: Managing Contraception 2017-2018. 14th ed. Tiger, Ga.: Bridging the Gap Foundation; 2017.