Long Term Influence of Oral Contraceptives on Mortality

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Karin B. Michels, ScD, PhD
Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology
Harvard Medical School

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Michels: We were interested in studying the long-term effects of oral contraceptive use on mortality. Given the widespread use of oral contraceptives, this is an important question pertaining to millions of women worldwide.  We explored this question in the large Nurses’ Health Study, a cohort of 121,700 women in the US, who have been followed for 38 years. We found that oral contraceptive use does not impact overall mortality. However, breast cancer mortality was slightly increased, especially with long-term use of oral contraceptives.

Medical Research:
What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Michels: Oral contraceptives don’t seem to affect overall mortality. However, women with breast cancer or a family history of breast cancer warrant special consideration, especially for longer term use of oral contraceptives.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Michels: We were only able to study the higher-dose first- and second generation OCs. Further studies may want to address the safety of the currently used lower-dose formulations, in particular with respect to breast cancer incidence and mortality.


Charlton Brittany M, Rich-Edwards Janet W, Colditz Graham A, Missmer Stacey A, Rosner Bernard A, Hankinson Susan E et al. Oral contraceptive use and mortality after 36 years of follow-up in the Nurses’ Health Study: prospective cohort study BMJ 2014; 349:g6356