There are lots of options available to prevent pregnancy. Many use hormones (e.g., estrogen and/or a progestin). Birth control pills are the most common. Other choices are intrauterine devices or IUDs, implants, injections, patches, or a vaginal ring. You may want to know if birth control is safe. Keep reading to learn more about the safety of hormonal birth control.

What are some common side effects of birth control?

Most women will have some minor side effects with birth control. These are not anything to be concerned about. They usually go away after a month or two. If they don’t go away or really bother you, tell your prescriber. Changing to a different product or type of birth control may help. Some common side effects are:

  • breast pain
  • headache
  • mood swings
  • nausea
  • spotting

Is there a risk of breast cancer with birth control?

For most women, there is little to no risk of breast cancer from using birth control. The risk is about the same as your risk of being accidentally poisoned. Your risk may change depending on the following:

  • Age. The risk of breast cancer increases as you get older. For every 100,000 women using hormonal birth control for a year or more there may be:
    • Thirteen more cases of breast cancer in women, regardless of age.
    • Two more cases of breast cancer in women younger than 35 years old.
  • Family history. If you have a close relative with breast cancer, that increases your risk. Taking birth control will increase the risk the same in women with or without a family history. Feel comfortable using birth control with hormones even if you have a family history.
  • How long you use birth control: Breast cancer risk increases the longer you use it. But even with long-term use, the risk is still small. Taking hormonal birth control may lead to:
    • One more case of breast cancer for every 7,700 women who take it for at least one year.
    • One more case of breast cancer for every 5,300 women who take it for ten years.
  • If you have breast cancer, you should avoid birth control with estrogen and/or progestin. Talk with your prescriber about other options (e.g., a copper IUD, etc).

Is there a risk of getting a blood clot with birth control?

The simple answer is yes. Estrogen can slightly raise your risk of a blood clot. HOWEVER, the risk of getting a blood clot is actually higher if you become pregnant. Your clot risk with birth control does increase if you are a smoker AND at least 35 years old. A blood clot can cause chest pain, trouble breathing, dizziness, blurry vision, or severe headache or leg pain. If any of these happen, get medical help right away. If you are at least 35 years old and smoke 15 or more cigarettes per day, you should avoid birth control with estrogen. Talk with your prescriber about other options.

Are there other benefits from birth control?

YES. Birth control prevents pregnancy. The hormones in birth control also have other benefits. Birth control can reduce bleeding, cramping, and pain with your period. It can also lower the risk of some cancers. These cancers are ovarian (lowers risk by about 50%), endometrial, and possibly colon cancer.

The bottom line

For most women, using a birth control method that contains hormones is a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy. There are lots of options to choose from. Some options don’t have any hormones. Talk with your prescriber about which birth control is best for you.

This handout may not cover all possible information. It does not replace the need for professional medical care. Always follow the instructions from your healthcare provider.

Pharmacist’s Letter Patient Education; February 2018; 340203