Despite Cervical Cancer Link, Docs Defend Pill

"We know that you have to have an infection to develop cervical cancer, but we also know that most women with an HPV infection don't develop cervical cancer, which means there have to be other factors besides the infection itself that cause the cancer," says Green.

"In women with an HPV infection, hormones in the pill may increase the risk that the infection will persist and develop into cancer."

Risk Doesn't Warrant Discontinuation

But until more conclusive research shows a direct connection between the pill and cervical cancer, most doctors agree that women should not be deterred from using the pill as a means of birth control.

"The important thing is that cervical cancer is preventable," says Bookman. "With screening and now with vaccinations, it's a much less serious problem."

Dr. Nicole Karjane, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Virginia Commonwealth University, agrees and says that there are things women can do to prevent cervical cancer -- and stopping the pill is not one of them.

"The potential risks of an unwanted pregnancy or pregnancies in general are so much higher than the small potential increase in cervical cancer," she says. "Use condoms, delay the onset of sexual intercourse, and minimize the number of lifetime sex partners you have."

Taking the pill may actually provide some cancer benefits for women. Bookman says that oral contraception has been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by 40 percent, and past studies have shown that the pill reduces cancer of the womb by as much as 50 percent.

"This research adds to the picture of the overall risks and benefits associated with taking the pill," says Green. "The small increase in risk of cervical and breast cancer is well-outweighed by the reduced risk of cancer of the ovaries and womb."

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