Study: Ovarian cancer deaths fall thanks to contraceptive pill

Deaths in women caused by ovarian cancer have fallen globally, largely because of the use of the contraceptive pill, according to a new study.

The Italian academics who published the study said that another factor is the worldwide reduction in the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Taking the hormonal contraceptive pill for five years or more can protect women from ovarian cancer as they age but taking HRT in later life can result in a higher risk of suffering from breast and ovarian cancer, as well as heart disease.

There has been a large drop in women using HRT in the last two decades because of a greater awareness of these risks.

According to the study, deaths from ovarian cancer have dropped by ten per cent in the 28 member states of the European Union (EU) between 2002 and 2012. However, there were significant differences between the countries, with Denmark and Sweden seeing falls of 24 per cent and Hungary seeing a 0.6 per cent drop.

The mortality rate in the US fell by 16 per cent and by 12 per cent in both Australia and New Zealand.

Professor Carlo La Vecchia, of Italy’s University of Milan and the study lead, said: “The large variations in death rates between European countries have reduced since the 1990s when there was a three-fold variation across Europe from 3.6 per 100,000 in Portugal to 9.3 in Denmark.

“This is likely to be due to more uniform use of oral contraceptives across the continent, as well as reproductive factors, such as how many children a woman has.”

Prof La Vecchia added that noticeable differences remain between countries such as Sweden and Denmark, where women began taking the contraceptive pill earlier, and many Eastern and Southern European countries, where oral contraceptive use started decades later and was taken by fewer women.