It sounds almost like one of those too-good-to-be-true myths that you used to hear at school, but it isn't – contraceptives actually do help to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. According to the World Ovarian Cancer Day website, 'oral contraceptives have been shown to reduce the risk for ovarian cancer by up to 30-60%'. The site also highlights several other ways to reduce your risk, including surgical options, but the contraceptive pill is probably the easiest and most accessible.
Cancer Research UK also points to the contraceptive pill as a risk reducer. It is thought this is because the pill supresses the hormones responsible for stimulating the ovaries. If you release fewer eggs during your life, the cells don't have to divide as much and it's less likely that a mutation will occur. Recently, a new theory has emerged that the hormone progesterone contained in the pill may also offer protection.
Research has shown that taking the pill at some point in your life does reduce your ovarian cancer risk by a substantial amount, and, according to the same studies, the longer you take it, the better protected you are.
Cataloguing risks is not an exact science and, in all likelihood, it is something you would have to decide on personally. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, around 75% of women under the age of 50 use contraception, with 25% of women using oral contraceptives. Additionally, studies have shown that the risks that come with oral contraceptives are statistically outweighed by the risks of pregnancy and childbirth. Some exceptions could include cases where the body rejects the oral contraceptive, whether because the woman is allergic to an active ingredient or because there is a problem with the change in hormones.
Although genetic factors do not guarantee that a woman will have or develop ovarian cancer, family history does play a part. An inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene can increase the risk, although, as mentioned, it does not guarantee anything. In any case, though, the increased risk may well be a reason to consider taking an oral contraceptive, and studies do show that you are safer when doing so.
It is interesting to note that, with oral contraceptive usage already increasing year on year, more and more women in the UK will be inadvertently protected from the development of ovarian cancer. Though some people will probably point to this rise and question the social dynamic that has led to this rise – are we sleeping around more? – most would agree that, overall, this rise in protection, not only from pregnancy from threats to health, is a good thing.