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A doctor at the School of Public Health is conducting a survey of over 100,000 married women in eastern Massachusetts to investigate the health hazards of the pill.
"One thing we are all aware of is the need for more information," said Dr. Brian MacMahon, director of the survey and professor of Epidemiogy at the School of Public Health. "More than 10 million women are using the pill, and we must learn as soon as possible whether the doubts expressed by some physicians are being realized."
The study will determine what percentage of the women polled take the pill and whether they have been hospitalized in the past year. Using hospital records, the researchers will determine whether the frequency of those diseases commonly associated with the pill-for example, breast cancer and blood clotting-is higher in women who take the pill than in women who do not.
"The study we have started is one that will give information about a whole range of illnesses in a relatively short time," Dr. MacMahon said. "If all goes well, we should have some answers in two or three years."
The survey questionnaires also ask the number and age of the women's children and, if she takes the pill, how long she has taken it.
All the information on the questionnaires will be identified by number, and the only list of names and numbers will be kept locked in his office.
"While it is necessary for me to know the identity of individual women so that medical diagnoses can be checked, this information is not required for most of the analyses," he said, "These will be based on the questionnaire numbers alone."
Dr. MacMahon said that unmarried women were not included in the survey because "we didn't want to ask people embarrassing questions."
He refused to comment on the legitimacy of the current Massachusetts law prohibiting birth control materials to unmarried women. "I don't think it's relevant to our survey," he said.
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