25 July 2003
Despite perennial health scares about the oral contraceptive pill ('the pill'), a longitudinal UK study has found no harmful effect of pill use on overall mortality (death rates).
The findings should reassure women who had taken oral contraceptives containing 50 micrograms of oestrogen, and offered 'considerable encouragement' to women on today's low-dose formulations, the authors said.
But the study confirmed the increased mortality (death) risk for smokers, whether or not they were taking the pill.
The findings were the most extensive published on the effects of smoking on mortality in young and middle-aged UK women, and they enabled direct contrasts to be drawn between 2 exposures (smoking and taking the pill) that, arguably, received equally negative publicity, the authors said.
Researchers compared deaths among women who had ever used oral contraceptives with deaths among smokers, as part of the Oxford Family Planning Association study of 17,000 women who were aged 25-39 years between 1968 and 1974, at the start of the study.
With data on 889 deaths available, the researchers found that smoking doubled the risk of all-cause mortality (death, irrespective of the cause), even among young women (Lancet 2003; 362: 185-91).
The death rate in women who smoked between one and 14 cigarettes a day was 1.24 times that of women who didn't smoke, and 2.14 times the death rate in those who smoked 15 or more a day (that is, more than double the death rate of non-smokers). For all-cause mortality the death rate in women who had used oral contraceptives was 0.89.
However, oral contraceptives increased mortality from cervical cancer and had an adverse effect on deaths from ischaemic heart disease (heart attack) in smokers.
Last Reviewed: 25 July 2003