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Millions Potentially Affected: Brain Tumor Risk

Millions Potentially Affected: Study Suggests Common Contraceptive May Increase Brain Tumor Risk

A new study suggests that using certain contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medications may increase a woman’s risk of developing a specific type of brain tumor.

The research, published in the BMJ medical journal, found a link between progestogen-based medications and intracranial meningiomas. Progestogens are hormones similar to progesterone, the female sex hormone. They are commonly used in birth control pills, injections, and intrauterine systems (IUS), as well as for managing menopausal symptoms and certain gynecological conditions.

The study, led by Dr. Noémie Roland of the French National Agency for Medicines and Health Products Safety, investigated the impact of eight different progestogens on the risk of meningiomas. Meningiomas are tumors that grow on the meninges, the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. While usually benign (non-cancerous), meningiomas can grow large enough to cause serious health problems or even death.

Researchers analyzed data from over 108,000 women, including 18,061 who had surgery for intracranial meningioma between 2009 and 2018. The analysis revealed that:

  • Medroxyprogesterone acetate injections, a contraceptive used by millions of women worldwide, were associated with a five-fold increase in meningioma risk.
  • Medrogestone, a medication sometimes prescribed for menopausal symptoms, showed a more than four-fold increased risk.
  • Progesterone used in HRT (promegestone) was linked to a 2.7 times greater risk of meningiomas.
  • Levonorgestrel IUS, a hormonal birth control device, did not show an increased risk.

Independent experts acknowledge the importance of this study. Dr. Mangesh Thorat of King’s College London highlights that the research strengthens the evidence connecting certain progestogens to meningiomas. However, he emphasizes that women taking progestogens should not be alarmed.

“This is a large study…confirms an association between certain progestogens and meningioma risk,” Dr. Thorat says. “There is no reason to panic as the risk is very small…[and] stopping the specific drug has shown to cause regression in tumor size.”

The advice from medical professionals is for women with concerns to talk to their healthcare providers. Discussing the specific medication being used and potential alternatives can help women make informed decisions about their health.

This research underscores the need for further investigation into the interactions between different progestogens and the hormonal system to guide safe and effective hormonal therapies.


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