The Pill's Dirty Little Secret

Judie Brown
May 14, 2010
Reproduced with Permission

As the media hype begins to die down over the not-so-wonderful 50th anniversary of the birth control pill, Hollywood's own Raquel Welch opines that she "laments the havoc that the free-sex ethos has wreaked on marriage and family life."

In a CNN column entitled, appropriately, "It's sex-o'clock in America," she writes,

One significant, and enduring, effect of the pill on female sexual attitudes during the 60s was: "Now we can have sex anytime we want, without the consequences. Hallelujah, let's party!"

It remains this way. These days, nobody seems able to "keep it in their pants" or honor a commitment! Raising the question: Is marriage still a viable option? I'm ashamed to admit that I myself have been married four times, and yet I still feel that it is the cornerstone of civilization, an essential institution that stabilizes society, provides a sanctuary for children and saves us from anarchy.

In stark contrast, a lack of sexual inhibitions, or as some call it, "sexual freedom," has taken the caution and discernment out of choosing a sexual partner, which used to be the equivalent of choosing a life partner. Without a commitment, the trust and loyalty between couples of childbearing age is missing, and obviously leads to incidents of infidelity. No one seems immune.

You probably haven't seen her interviewed about this startling, rather uncommon perspective but nonetheless, it is refreshing to witness at least some soul searching in one of the sectors of the cultural mix from which emanates so much depiction of sexual satisfaction as the only thing that matters.

On the other hand, as my good friend Chris Kahlenborn, M.D., pointed out, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, from which sprang the twisted attitudes that made the pill acceptable, continues to deceive and deny the truth. In its celebratory editorial on the pill, ACOG's Vice President of Practice Activities Hal Lawrence, M.D., characterizes the birth control pill as perfectly safe. The article opines,

The pill remains one of the safest and most popular forms of contraception in the U.S. No other single medication has empowered American women and impacted their quality of life as has the pill. "The challenge ahead is to improve more widespread and consistent use of contraception in the U.S. to help reduce the number of unplanned and undesired pregnancies," said Dr. Lawrence.

This is all it took for Kahlenborn to respond since he is among the few honest physicians who have studied the pill and its connections to such dreadful diseases as breast cancer. Kahlenborn immediately wrote the following letter to the editor entitled "The Pill After 50 Years: That Dirty Little Secret." Perhaps ACOG will ignore it, but here it is:

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the birth control pill in the United States. Newspapers and magazines around the country ran stories on this, mostly extolling the social and medical benefits of the pill. This theme was bolstered by a recent communiqu? from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which noted: "The pill remains one of the safest and most popular forms of contraception in the U.S." (Office of Communications, ACOG, May 6, 2010,

I find it disturbing that after nearly 50 years, both the media and the medical establishment have failed to give a true airing to one of the pill's most dangerous side effects, namely, that "dirty little secret." What's that? One need only check the Mayo Clinic Proceedings - the major medical publication of the Mayo Clinic - to find our little-known study, which showed that the pill increases the risk of premenopausal breast cancer substantially when taken at a young age (see Mayo Clinic Proceedings: October 3, 2006 In October 2006, we reviewed the medical literature and combined data in an analysis (referred to as a meta-analysis): We found that 21 out of 23 studies showed that using oral contraceptives prior to a woman's first birth resulted in a 44 percent increased risk in premenopausal breast cancer. Our meta-analysis remains the most recent study in this area and updates the previously analysis (the Oxford analysis published in 1996), which relied on older data with older women (two-thirds of whom were over age 45); unfortunately, the Oxford study continues to be quoted by ACOG, textbooks, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and most researchers and obstetricians, claiming that oral contraceptives carry little breast cancer risk especially 10 years after last use.

I continue to be amazed at the discordance between the medical literature and public/medical awareness. To my dismay, after our meta-analysis was published, the Mayo Clinic sent out a press release to all major media in the country. The response? ( ). The blank space between the parentheses is purposeful. Although our meta-analysis received scant internet coverage, almost no major media covered this study, which is shocking, given the fact that about 40,000 women in the U.S. get premenopausal breast cancer annually, oral contraceptives are an elective risk factor and our study is the most recent meta-analysis to date on the oral contraceptive-breast cancer link.

In addition to our meta-analysis, it's important to note that the World Health Organization classified oral contraceptives as a Class I carcinogen in 2005 - the most dangerous classification. Even more data has come forth recently in a paper by several researchers - one of whom is a major researcher of the National Cancer Institute - which not only cited our meta-analysis, but found that oral contraceptives increase the risk of triple-negative breast cancer in women under 40 by 320 percent (triple-negative breast cancers are extremely aggressive). (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, April 2009

Few in the medical establishment or the public are aware of this data, or if they are, young women almost never hear about them. It's been almost four years since the publication of our study in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings; I am beginning to think that our study has been effectively "buried." Breast cancer and the pill - that dirty little secret? Some day perhaps someone in the media and/or medical establishment will dust a little dirt off those pink ribbons and let young women hear all the facts so they can finally make truly informed decisions.

Dr. Kahlenborn is the lead author of the Mayo Clinic Proceeding's article cited above. He testified before the FDA in June 2000 regarding the link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer. His insights are notably absent from the current spate of publicity being given to the pill, but they are nonetheless among the most honest you are likely to see. If you want to learn more, feel free to contact or interview Dr. Kahlenborn any time.

Contact Info:

The Polycarp Research Institute (

Box 105
Enola, PA 17025