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Birth control long-term effects you should know about

Kristen Fischer is a writer living at the Jersey Shore. In addition to writing for SheKnows, she has penned articles for Prevention, Health, Woman's Day, BELLA, and New Jersey Monthly. Kristen enjoys spending time with her family, friend...

What you should know about taking birth control for extended periods of time

Birth control may be a gal's best friend... but, could it also be a health threat?

Every once in a while, reports surface about the negative effects of birth control. The latest one involves Danish research that linked women with brain tumors.

In the study, the researchers found that women under 50 years of age with a rare brain tumor were 90 percent more likely to have used hormonal birth control. Despite the results, the lead researcher said that's no excuse to stop taking birth control. The condition is extremely rare — about five in 100,000 people develop glioma each year.

"It is important to keep this apparent increase in risk in context," Dr. David Gaist, of the Odense University Hospital and University of Southern Denmark, said in a statement. Regardless, The study raises the questions: Can you be on birth control for too long and not put your health at risk?

Dr. Draion Burch, an OB-GYN known as Dr. Drai, said women need to weigh the risks of taking birth control and compare them to the benefits.

"Ladies who took birth control for more than five years may have a higher risk of developing a brain tumor," he said, noting that the risk was higher in women who took progesterone-only birth control.

"There are risks for taking birth control," he said. "Some side effects of birth control are risk of cervical cancer, blood clots, strokes and heart attack." And according to the National Cancer Institute, while oral birth control seems to lower the risks of endometrial and ovarian cancer, it seems to boost the risk of breast, cervical and liver cancer.

Still, Dr. Jill Hechtman, the medical director of Tampa Obstetrics in Tampa, Florida, said the study should not be cause for alarm.

"Right now there are very positive attributes of the pill," she said, citing that it can prevent ovarian cancer after seven years of use, can thwart ovarian cysts, prevent acne, regulate periods, ease treatment, help treat endometriosis and more.

How long is too long for birth control?

Hechtman said there is not a specific time period when women should stop taking birth control — other than when they want to have children.

"I tell my patients who are trying to conceive that they should think ahead and be off birth control for three months prior to getting pregnant," she said. "This gives you the opportunity to get prenatal vitamins started as well as building up the lining of your uterus, the endometrium."

And Fox News reported on a study in Human Reproduction which reported that women who used the pill for more than five years were more likely to conceive within six months to a year compared to those who never took it.

Otherwise, women can stop taking birth control when they go into menopause, Drai said. Again, best to talk to a doctor about your personal health history and medical needs.

"You can safely take birth control for a long period of time," Hechtman confirms.

Dr. Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso, published a medical opinion with the Mayo Clinic about the risks of long-term birth control use. She said women who are generally healthy can use birth control up until they hit menopause.

"This applies to combination and progestin-only birth control pills for women who are nonsmokers and progestin-only birth control pills for younger women who are smokers," she said in a statement.

Interestingly enough, Laughlin-Tommaso noted that there are no health perks to taking a break from birth control. So, happy pill popping.

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