If someone were to tell me that a woman taking a birth control pill could be blamed for a man getting prostate cancer, I would tell them they are crazy. It sounds like an impossibility if you ask me! Yet, a new study is claiming that there is a link between use of the Pill and the number of new prostate cancer cases, as well as deaths from it. And, supposedly the link can be found in the water supply.
Researchers at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto compared rates of prostate cancer cases and deaths in 87 countries with rates of contraceptive use – including intrauterine devices, condoms, and vaginal barrier contraceptives. But apart from the Pill, a correlation “was not found among other contraceptive methods,” said lead author Dr. David Margel.
But, what in the world is the connection?
Acccording to Dr. Margel, women on the Pill excrete estrogen in their urine, which gets into the environment – particularly into water. And scientific evidence suggests that low levels of estrogen may cause cancer, including prostate cancer.
The researchers used data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the UN World Contraceptive Use report to assess both rates of prostate cancer and common methods of contraception.
“What we found was that in countries where the oral contraceptive was used more often, prostate cancer had a greater incidence,” Margel said. But he stressed there may be many factors involved, and “this study does not establish cause and effect … This is a very, very preliminary finding and we’re not telling everybody to quit the pill.” Confirming the effect of pill-based estrogen alone would take much more research.
According to the research, the study is the first-of-its-kind to suggest a possible link between oral birth control pills and prostate cancer, according to ABC News.
While the amount of estrogen excreted by any individual is tiny, “when millions of women are doing it and for a long period of time, it may cause low environmental estrogen levels,” Margel said.
Estrogen and estrogen-like chemicals are found in many commercial and cosmetic products, including pesticides. Studies have shown that male farmers exposed to estrogen-containing pesticides have a higher risk of prostate cancer compared with the general population.
Increasingly, compounds known as “endocrine disruptors” are being found in water, according to Fe de Leon, a researcher at the Canadian Environmental Law Association. These chemicals – such as DDT and BPA – are found in everyday objects such as plastic bottles, metal food cans, and detergents.
Society can’t ignore the fact that estrogen and estrogen-mimicking substances may have a significant impact during an individual’s development and could eventually lead to breast and prostate cancers, DeLeon said. “But it’s very hard to make that distinction. It’s hard to pinpoint which chemical’s responsible for a particular health endpoint. It certainly warrants further investigation.”
Dr. Neil Fleshner, co-author and head of urology at the University Health Network in Ontario, said that the research findings present more questions than answers and that the study hypothesis is speculative, but the research does point to collaborative increases between prostate cancer and birth control.
This study was published in BMJ Open.