Birth control pills offer menstruation regulation, lower risk of cancer over time

Many girls have seen the commercials, heard the statistics and ordered a prescription for the birth control pill.

But what many girls don’t know are the facts behind the 48-year-old contraceptive, used by more than 12 million women in the United States.

There are a lot of reasons why women choose to go on the pill, such as to relieve menstrual cramps or decrease acne. Still, the most obvious and common reason is to prevent pregnancy.

Dr. Christopher Estes, a physician specializing in contraception at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said a woman on the pill actually has an eight percent chance of getting pregnant, factoring in inconsistencies. Estes also noted that other forms of contraception, such as a condom, should be used in addition to the pill.

In today’s pharmaceutical market, a woman is constantly bombarded with different birth control pills with various advantages. In general, the pill can offer milder and more regular periods. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian cysts, ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer if taken for more than five years.

There are many different types of available birth control pills. The triphasic pills deliver an increased dosage of progestin every week.

“Sometimes people respond better to triphasic pills,” said Amy Weiss, a general physician at the UM Health Center.

Monophasic pills deliver the same dose of hormones each day. With both types, a woman takes the pill daily, ideally at the same time every day, to get the best results.

Some forms allow women to have as few as four periods a year. Though this may sound unusual, Estes said prescribing pills such as these is normal and sometimes recommended. Taking this regimen requires fewer trips to the pharmacy and fewer insurance complications, and it is just as safe as the more conventional version, Estes said.

“It’s perfectly fine to get four periods a year, especially for girls who have bad periods,” Weiss added.

So which brand should one choose?

“All pills on the market are essentially the same, good and safe, with similar efficacy,” Estes said, also noting that experiences vary for each individual depending on how she reacts to estrogen.

Although there are many advocates of the pill, the daily hormone dosage has also been shown to increase the chance of blood clots and cause weight gain, headaches and nausea. Still, the pill does not decrease a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant once she is ready to have children.

“Fertility after taking birth control pills, whether six months or six years, will be the same as you started,” Weiss said.

To learn more about the pill, visit the Health Center’s Web site:

Padma Sarvepalli may be contacted at

Popular brands

Brand: Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo
Type of Pill: Triphasic
Perks: regular periods,,reduced cramps, low dose of estrogen
Downsides:increased risk of , blood clots, some, spotting between, periods, nausea, bloating

-Ortho Tri-Clyclen
proven to help with mild to moderate acne
same as above

Loestrin 24
Lowest dose of estrogen allowed by FDA, three day periods on average
nausea, vomiting, bleeding, or spotting between menstrual periods; weight gain,breast tenderness and difficulty wearing contact lenses

synthetic progestin not derived from testosterone
Headaches, nausea, bloating, breakthrough, Bleeding, breast tenderness

treat severe emotional and physical premenstrual symptoms
breakthrough bleeding, headaches, nausea, bloating, breast tenderness

Four periods a year
More likely to have spotting between periods

-Compiled by Padma Sarvepalli

Did you know: Although women on the pill have periods, they are not actually menstruating. Women not on the pill have a normal cycle during which progesterone and estrogen are produced and prompt the egg to ripen, and the uterus lining to thicken. If the egg is not fertilized, then the uterus lining sheds, which is called menstruation. In women on the pill, the synthetic hormones interfere with the natural cycle, and stop the uterus lining from building up. When women take their 7 days of sugar pills, the drop in hormones causes “withdrawal bleeding,” which serves no biological purpose.

-Karyn Meshbane

February 7, 2008


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