In a finding that may old new information to the understanding of cancer, a recent study authored by five Harvard professors indicates that women who we birth control pills one significantly reduce the risk of overran cancer in later life.
The study which appeared in the October 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the incidence of ovarian cancer among women between the ages of 40 and 99 who had previously used the pill was 11 percent loss than woman who had not.
Harvard-affiliated doctors contacted yesterday said the finding will probably have few immediate results for public health, but might lead to a cure for public health, but might lead to a cure for ovarian and other cancers.
"The overall finding, that use of oral contraceptives is linked to decreased incidence of ovarian cancer is important in understanding the mechanism involved in the carcinogenic process," said Dr. Walter C. Willett, assistant professor of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health yesterday. "As far as short-term benefits to general public health is concerned, it's not that important."
Dr. Robert E. Scully, professor of Pathology and an author of the study agreed with Willett's assessment. "I don't think that the decrease in frequency of ovarian cancer in women over 40 is enough to say that oral contraceptives are a preventative--women are not going to use them for that reason," he said. "The findings," he remarked, "may lead to areas of investigation into the ideologic factors causing carcinoma."
In contrast to the findings for women over 40, the study showed that women under that age were twice as likely to contract ovarian cancer if they used the pill.
The disease is responsible for about six percent of all cancer-related deaths among women in the United States annually. It is most common among women in their 50s and is relatively rare among women under 40.
The investigation found that the greatest benefit were derived by woman over 40 who discontinued the use of the oral contraceptive more than 10 years before the investigation began. The five professors theorized that the pill protects older women by decreasing production of a particular group of hormones, the gonadotropins.
Taking three years to complete, the study involved a comparison of the use of the pill by 144 victims of ovarian cancer and 139 subjects randomly selected in the Boston area.