Some people take the birth control pill for much of their adult lives without a break. Others use long-term hormonal contraception devices, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), that can stay in place for several years.
The safety of using long-term hormonal birth control may depend on a person’s risk factors, age, and medical history.
Read on to find out the short-term and long-term effects of birth control.
Short-term side effects
Hormonal methods of birth control contain artificial progesterone or estrogen and progesterone. They affect the hormone levels in a person’s body, so many people experience side effects shortly after taking them.
Not all people will experience side effects. Some side effects will go away within several months as the body adjusts to the hormones. Other side effects may develop after taking hormones for some time.
Possible short-term side effects of birth control include:
- bleeding between periods, or spotting
- breast tenderness
- weight gain
- mood swings
Long-term side effects
For most people, using contraceptives for a long time does not cause significant problems.
Many people use hormonal birth control for contraception. But, others take hormonal birth control to manage long-term medical conditions. Conditions include heavy or painful periods, endometriosis, and menopause symptoms. Doctors approve the use of the pills for these conditions, so they should be okay to take.
A doctor can advise individuals about the safety and risks of using long-term birth control according to their medical history.
There are several factors and possible side effects to consider when taking long-term birth control:
Birth control and cancer
According to the National Cancer Institute, there is mixed evidence that hormonal contraceptives may increase the risk of breast and cervical cancer but reduce the risk of endometrial, ovarian, and colorectal cancers.
The hormones in birth control, including progesterone and estrogen, may stimulate the growth of some types of cancer cells and reduce the risk of others developing.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that people who have taken birth control pills are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than those who have never used them. However, this risk goes away when people have been off the pill for 10 or more years.
The ACS also report that taking birth control for more than 5 years may increase the risk of cervical cancer. The longer people take the pill, the higher their risk. However, the risk should go back down gradually when someone stops taking the pill.
A large-scale study published in 2018 looked at the cancer prevalence in over 100,000 women aged 50 to 71 who were currently taking birth control pills. The study indicated that long-term use of birth control decreased the risk of both ovarian and endometrial cancer.
Researchers are not sure why birth control pills may lower the risk of certain cancers. It may be because the pill decreases the number of ovulations a person has in their lifetime, which exposes them to less naturally occurring hormones.