Common myths and the contraceptive pill

The contraceptive pill has been littered with media scare stories, medical U-turns and ill-advised prescribing practices since its inception in the 1960s. But what is the truth?

From causing weight gain to cancer risks, the pill has been subject to many different rumours. Here we bust some of the most common myths surrounding the contraceptive pill to help you make an informed choice.

The contraceptive pill and cancer

Though women taking the pill have a slightly increased breast cancer risk, their risk of ovarian, endometrial and colorectal cancer is reduced. This means pill users have no overall increased risk of cancer.

The pill and weight gain

A 2008 gold-standard Cochrane review analysed the data from 49 trials and found there was no evidence to suggest the pill causes weight gain.

Some women experience an increase in water retention, which can cause minor changes on the scales, however.

Long-term use and pregnancy

It’s often been thought that taking the pill for a long time makes it harder to get pregnant later on. But what’s the truth?

In fact, there’s no evidence to suggest the pill affects a woman’s ability to conceive once they stop taking it. In fact, it’s possible to get pregnant as soon as a woman stops taking contraception. This is why it’s important not to miss a pill.

Some women do find that their menstrual cycle can take a little time to get back to normal (this is particularly true of women who had irregular periods to begin with), but this will not affect their long-term fertility.

The pill and acne

In the vast majority of cases, the combined pill often improves the quality of skin. For example, Dianette is a treatment for severe acne, and also acts as a contraceptive. In some cases, the progesterone-only pill can worsen skin – if this is the case it’s important to visit a GP and try an alternative.

Taking a break from contraception

When taking the combined pill, women have traditionally been advised to take a pill for the first 21 days of the month, leaving seven days pill-free for a withdrawal bleed. Opinion on this has changed though. Last year, the UK’s Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare updated its guidelines, indicating that this break was not only entirely unnecessary but that it contributes to unwanted pregnancy and unnecessary side-effects.

Its effectiveness at preventing pregnancy

The pill is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy when taken correctly. This means that out of 100 women using the pill, fewer than one will become pregnant in a year. This number increases to nine women in 100 with typical use. Researchers believe skipping the seven-day break will help to bring this number down as women won’t have to alter their daily habit.

Watch Liz discuss the pill with Dr Zoe Williams

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