You already know the Pill is great for regulating your cycle and keeping babies at bay, but it also has a host of other amazing health benefits. According to a recent analysis in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, women who use oral contraceptives have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer—and the longer you take it, the lower your risk.
Researchers looked at 24 studies from January 1990 to June 2012. They found that women who had ever used oral contraceptives—any type—had a 27 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer than women who had never taken the Pill. And women who had been on the Pill for 10 years or more saw a reduced risk of more than 50 percent!
So what’s behind this association? Researchers still aren’t entirely sure, says lead study author Laura Havrilesky, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University School of Medicine. One theory is that halting ovulation has a protective effect on the ovaries, though other theories mention a possible hormonal effect on the fallopian tubes, which is where many aggressive forms of ovarian cancer begin, says Havrilesky. Regardless of the mechanism, it’s a pretty great side effect if you’re already planning to be on the Pill.
That said, experts warn that you shouldn’t go on birth control just to reduce your risk since the average woman’s chances of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer is just 1.7 percent, says Havrilesky. Plus, previous research has linked long-term birth control use with a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. Essentially, this is one added benefit that can be weighed against other benefits—and drawbacks—of the Pill, says Havrilesky. However, if you have a family history or known genetic mutation that puts you at an increased risk of ovarian cancer and you’re already in the market for contraception, it may be worth talking to your doctor about going on the Pill.
Check out all the other perks that come with your pack of pills:
More from Women’s Health:
What Causes Ovarian Cancer?
Could Pain Relievers Lower Your Ovarian Cancer Risk?
Nanoparticles from grapefruits may help treat cancer, according to new research. [The Daily Meal]
Soon, high-tech medicine bottles might be able to help you remember to take your Rx as directed. [WSJ]
You’ve got to check out the Obama prom pictures that recently surfaced. [TIME]
New research finds that stressful days are also your not-hot days. [Fox News]
People on cholesterol-lowering statins may not reap the same benefits from exercise that people not on the medication do. [NYT]
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting three to six major hurricanes this season. [Yahoo News]
A disturbing new study suggests that you need to be an office bully to get ahead. [TIME]
If you’re looking for a new job, good news: Soulja Boy needs a social media intern. [Jezebel]
A dress with the face of Jason Alexander (aka George Costanza from Seinfeld) on it is surprisingly popular. [The Daily Beast]
Need some extra motivation to slather on the sunscreen every a.m.? People who have had non-melanoma skin cancer may have an increased risk of developing another type of cancer in the future, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine. Seeing as how skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States—and non-melanoma is the most common type—these findings are pretty alarming.
Several previous studies have shown a link between non-melanoma skin cancer and other types of cancer, says lead study author Jiali Han, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Researchers at the hospital analyzed data from two long-term studies in the U.S. and found that women with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer had a 26 percent higher chance of developing a subsequent cancer. (Men had a 15 percent higher risk.) For women specifically, the researchers found a significant link between a history of non-melanoma skin cancer and, later, lung cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma.
Han calls the association modest and points out that it’s not necessarily a causal one. More research is needed to determine why the association exists. And while this just adds to the humongo list of reasons why skin cancer is scary, remember: It’s also one of the most preventable kinds of cancer.
Learn your risk for developing the disease and what you may not know about it. And don’t forget—ever—to spread on sunscreen before you leave home. It may take a couple of extra minutes, but it’s so worth it.
If there were a way to prevent cancer, you’d definitely try it, right? Turns out, there are plenty of ways to reduce your risk of developing the disease, which affects 1.6 million new Americans every year. The thing is, many people just don’t use them.
Researchers estimate that lifestyle factors—like smoking, eating poorly, not getting enough exercise, and being overweight—will contribute to nearly a third of the new cancer cases expected in 2013, according to an annual report recently released by the American Cancer Society (ACS). In other words, healthier choices could keep as many as 553,000 people cancer-free this year.
Changing your behavior sounds pretty simple compared to, say, finding a cure for cancer. And yet, Americans continue to make poor health decisions year after year.
“We pick up these behaviors during our younger years, when we aren’t really thinking about the consequences,” says Suzanne O’Neill, PhD, assistant professor and health psychologist at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University. “It’s difficult to connect them with outcomes that may or may not happen decades from now. And it’s easy to convince yourself that you can quit later.”
Worse yet, a lot of unhealthy behaviors–like smoking a cigarette or lying out in the sun—provide immediate rewards that reinforce the bad habit, says O’Neill. But healthy behaviors don’t always feel as great right away.
It might not be easy to end unhealthy tendencies, but it’s certainly worth the effort. Make these lifestyle tweaks ASAP to cut your cancer risk:
Researchers estimate that 174,100 people will die from cancers related to smoking in 2013. If you currently light up, quit as soon as possible, suggests Vilma Cokkinides, PhD, strategic director of risk factors and screening for the American Cancer Society. The earlier you nix the habit, the longer you’ll live, she says. And don’t worry about ballooning as soon as you quit. Here’s how to stomp out the habit without gaining weight.
Manage your weight—starting NOW
Weight is a factor in as many as 20 percent of cancer-related deaths, according to ACS report. Of course, shedding pounds is easier said than done. Find out what your healthy weight is, then take action with these weight loss tips that don’t suck.
Wear SPF 15 or higher every day
It’s also a good idea to wear sun-protective clothing when you’re outside for extended periods of time—especially in the summer, says Cokkinides. And of course, never, ever visit a tanning salon. Thirty-three states now regulate the indoor tanning industry, and with good reason: Skin cancer is almost a sure thing for people who fake bake and burn, according to a 2010 University of Minnesota study. Find the best sunscreen for your skin type.
Cut way back on processed foods
Cokkinides suggests eating like your life depends on it because, well, it does. The fewer processed foods and fatty meats you consume, the less likely you’ll be to develop cancer. Load up on plants and lean proteins instead. You can get started with these seven ways to sneak more produce into your diet.
While researchers don’t know exactly how much exercise is necessary to ward off cancer, they recommend shooting for 150 minutes of hard-core exercise per week, or up to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity movement. Physical activity can reduce your risk of breast, colon, endometrial, and prostate cancer—and help fend off weight-related cancers, too, according to the ACS report.
Get the HPV vaccine
If you’re 26 or younger (the age until which the HPV vaccine has been proven effective), ask your doc about getting this. Since HPV contributes to 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, according to the ACS report, taking this step to protect yourself is a no-brainer.
Get regular health screenings
Unfortunately, even the healthiest lifestyle won’t make you totally immune to cancer. Early detection helps people maximize their odds of survival. The thing is, between breast exams, skin exams, pap smears, STD tests, mammograms, and colonoscopies, it can be hard to stay on top of the screenings you need. Bookmark this fool-proof guide to remember what needs to be checked when.