Back when I was relatively new to sex research, I was out at a dinner with colleagues who are extremely well known and respected in the field. Two of these women are particularly well known for their research related to hormones. There were some artists at the dinner, too, who were asking these two scientists about their work. Listening to them explain it over Thai food, I was in awe. Here I was – a woman – and I knew almost nothing about the things they were talking about related to hormones. Most of my friends didn’t either. It seemed like a golden opportunity to ask questions and learn about my health. At one point, I asked something along the lines of what women could do to improve their health. In addition to the usual "eat well, exercise, don’t smoke" reply, one of the women added "and either get pregnant or get on the pill, or do both" and the other nodded her head in agreement.
Huh? Pregnancy? The pill? What did these have to do with my overall health and well-being?
It turns out quite a lot. Women who have been pregnant have a lower risk of some health problems compared to women who have never been pregnant. And when it comes to the birth control pill, there is tons of evidence to suggest that pill use is associated with a range of health benefits, including a lower risk of certain cancers. One of the most compelling is the dramatically lower incidence of ovarian cancer among women who have used the pill. Not only does one’s risk of ovarian cancer decrease while one is on the pill, but for years after being on the pill. And long term use offers benefits! We’ve known this for a long time now – there have been a number of studies on it. However, a recent study was able to look at even longer term outcomes and found that the pill’s benefits may last for as long as 30+ years in terms of reducing ovarian cancer risk. That’s huge! Especially given how hard it can be to detect ovarian cancer in its early stages (and ladies, in case you ever wondered why your ob/gyn briefly sticks his finger into your rectum during a gyn exam, a major reason is to check for ovarian cancer).