John Jalsevac
Special to The Interim

A press release issued on July 29 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, declared the little-publicized classification of combined estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives as carcinogenic. The IARC placed the contraceptives into their Group 1 classification, the highest classification of carcinogenicity, used only “when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans.”

Combined estrogen-progestogen OCs are the most commonly prescribed forms of contraceptives. According to the IARC, “Worldwide, more than 100 million women – about 10 per cent of all women of reproductive age – currently use combined hormonal contraceptives.”

This outright declaration by the World Health Organization of the proven dangers of combined OCs comes as an unexpected surprise to many who have been working for years to publicize their dangers. “I’m stunned that they would come out and say that, because they’ve been denying this for years,” said John Shea, a Toronto doctor and medical adviser to Campaign Life Coalition. But, he added, “They’re really only admitting something that’s been known.”

In 2003, the National Cancer Institute became one of the latest added to the list of scientific bodies that have found a substantially increased risk of several types of cancer amongst combined OC users, citing a “significant increase” of the risk of breast cancer, as well as an increase in the risk of cervical and liver cancers. Despite this admission, no significant steps have yet been taken to protect women’s health and to curb the use of combined OCs.

The IARC press release further confirms the NCI’s findings, declaring that: “Previously, combined oral contraceptives had been determined to be carcinogenic to humans, but only primary liver cancer was specifically implicated. The working group concluded that combined oral contraceptives alter the risk of several common cancers in women. They increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer, breast cancer and liver cancer.”