The birth control pill (oral contraceptive) was first approved for contraceptive use in the United States in 1960. The Pill enabled women for the first time to control fertility without sacrificing sexual relationships. It allowed women to make long-term educational and career plans. It enlarged the labor force. It freed women from servitude to their own anatomy. It fanned the flames of the age-old birth control debate between science and religion, and it caused “the sexual revolution.”
The Pill is a very popular form of birth control, currently used by more than 100 million women worldwide and by almost 12 million women in the U.S. When taken three weeks per month, oral contraceptives inhibit female fertility with an effectiveness rate of about 99%.
However, like the hormonal menopause therapy linked to higher breast cancer incidence in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association, the Pill is also made with a combination of estrogen and progestin.
Two studies in the renowned scientific journal Nature reported several weeks ago that the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences had identified a key mechanism that allows synthetic sex hormones (progestins) to directly affect mammary cells.
The Viennese research team showed that in breast cells of mice, the synthetic sex hormone used in both HRT and contraceptive pills can trigger RANKL, a molecule that serves as our master regulator of healthy bones. When affected by RANKL, a woman’s mammary cells start to divide and multiply. They fail to die off when they should. The stem cells in the breast can then renew themselves, ultimately causing in breast cancer.
In related studies, Marina Stolina and other researchers at the Department of Metabolic Disorders of Amgen Inc. in Thousand Oaks, California, found that blocking the RANKL system with drugs can significantly delay mammary tumor formation in mice, leading to significantly fewer breast cancers and metastases.
The research shows promise for the monoclonal antibody, denosumab, that blocks RANKL. it is now used to treat osteoporosis. However, the implication that RANKL may be activated by birth control pills as well as hormone replacement therapy seems staggering.
The journal Nature quoted Dr. Josef Penninger, scientific director of the Viennese Institute of Molecular Biotechnology, which identified the RANKL link: “I have to admit it completely surprised me just how massive the effects of the system were. Millions of women take progesterone derivatives in contraceptives and for hormonal replacement therapy. Since our results show that the RANKL system is an important molecular link between a synthetic sex hormone and breast tumors, one day women may be able to reduce their risk by taking blocking medicines in advance to prevent breast cancer.” The Times of India also cited the correlation.
In other words, takes a pill to beat a pill?