Ovarian cancer deaths have fallen around the world, largely because of the widespread use of the contraceptive pill, according to a major new study.

A study by Italian researchers has found that the number of people dying from ovarian cancer has dropped over the past decade due to increased use of the contraceptive pill together with a decline in the long-term use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

The study compared data on ovarian cancer death rates worldwide from 2002 to 2012 and found that there has been a steady decline in the number of women dying from the disease, The Guardian reported. The extent of this decline varies among countries with the highest improvements seen in Sweden where deaths from ovarian cancer dropped by 24% closely followed by the UK with 22% whilst the lowest drop was only 0.6% in Hungary. In the US death rates fell by 16% and in Australia and New Zealand, it went down by 12%.

The authors of the study believe this reduction in deaths from ovarian cancer is largely due to increased use of the contraceptive pill from an earlier age coupled with a reduction in the long-term use of HRT later in life.

The research into the change in death rates was led by Professor Carlo La Vecchia of the University of Milan. He claimed: “The large variations in death rates between European countries have reduced since the 1990s…This is likely to be due to more uniform use of oral contraceptives across the continent, as well as reproductive factors, such as how many children a woman has.”

Professor La Vecchia continued: “However, there are still noticeable differences between countries such as Britain, Sweden and Denmark, where more women started to take oral contraceptives earlier – from the 1960s onwards – and countries in Eastern Europe…where oral contraceptive use started much later and was less widespread.”

This theory is also supported by a reversal of the trend in Japan, a country which traditionally had low death rates from Ovarian cancer compared to the US and EU but now, due to infrequent oral contraceptive use, is experiencing higher death rates.

With regards to HRT, there was a significant drop in the number of women taking the medications after the publication of a large study in 2002 raised concerns over a link between HRT use and breast and ovarian Cancer. Many women took HRT for shorter periods only whilst others avoided taking it at all. This fits in nicely with the timing of the drop in death rates from ovarian cancer seen from 2002 onwards and is therefore thought to be another important contributing factor.

La Vecchia pointed out: “The problem of HRT is not the short-term use for two to three years for menopausal symptoms, the problem was the long-term use for 10 to 15 years or longer.”

Whatever the cause, a drop in death rates from ovarian cancer is good news for the many women diagnosed with the disease every year.


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