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Womanhood, The Pill and cancer risk

WHEN Temilade Aremu got married at 30, she had been sexually active for more than 10 years. Early in her sexually active life, a friend had introduced her to oral contraceptive pills (The Pill). Although it took a little experimentation with three different types of pills before she found one that was suitable, everything worked out fine at the end. The Pill became a regular part of Temilade’s life.
However, years later shortly after she had settled into marital life, it came as a surprise one day when she discovered a lump in her right breast. She was taking a shower at that time and the discovery was rather unexpected. But because the lump was painless and didn’t appear to have any adverse effect to her health, Temilade ignored it.
But not too long afterwards, some weeks later to be precise, she discovered another lump, this time in her right armpit. It was then she became really afraid and went to the hospital. To her shock, and dismay more lumps were found in both of her breasts, armpits and neck. It was a rude shock when the doctor recommended a biopsy to test if any of the lumps was malignant.
A week later, Temilade’s worst fears were confirmed. The little shred of hope she had held on to were shattered when the tests revealed that the lumps were indeed malignant tumours. She had breast cancer! Series of other tests and further observations were to confirm that she was actually at Stage 2. Doctors said she needed a miracle to overcome the spreading of the malignancy all over her body. Temilade is currently undergoing treatment and is seriously expecting the miracle that would cure her of the deadly disorder. Series of investigations into her medical history later revealed that a combination of the long usage of The Pill along with other factors made her susceptible to the cancer. There are millions of women in Nigeria and across the world who, like Temilade, are caught in the web of the adverse effects of unsolicited use of The Pill. Experts say their situation, although self-inflicted, is not unintentional. Research shows that most women, who use oral contraceptive pills, often do so ignorantly of the possible complications. Temilade’s experience is a notable case study.
Quite often, concerns raised about the role hormones in oral contraceptives might play in cancer development, have appeared not to be misplaced.
Oral contraceptives actually first became available to American women in the early 1960s. Their convenience, effectiveness, and reversibility of action have made them the most popular form of birth control in the world. Use of The Pill as a means of contraception has been a regular pastime of Nigerian women for almost as long as The Pill itself has been in existence. And this trend is not likely to change soon.
Statistics from the 2008 Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS 2008) reveal the pressing need to increase access to quality family planning and reproductive health services. It also presents a 20 percent deficit of an unmet need for family planning services in women. Experts say, this unmet need is a pointer to the desirability of required family planning information and services. Although experts acknowledge that oral contraceptives are relatively safe, they warn that they should only be used over limited period and must be used under prescription.
Dr. Remi Ajekigbe, Head of Radiotherapy and Oncology, Lagos University Teaching Hospital actually asserts that The Pill should not be used more than seven years before the first pre-term pregnancy. Prof. Rose Anorlu, a cervical cancer specialist, says The Pill predisposes a woman to breast cancer and cervical cancer due to the hormone in the pills but cut down the risk of ovarian cancer in women. Ajekigbe says this happens because cancers of the breast and of the cervix are hormone dependent. Information about when and how long a woman should take these pills is also a concern. It has been proven that there is a four-fold increase in risk among women who use oral contraceptives for longer than five years and risk also increases among women who begin using The Pill before age 20. Women who have used The Pill within the past five years are also at risk. How many Nigerian women have this information at their fingertips?  How many are aware that cervical cancer is associated with use of The Pill?
Evidence shows that long-term use of oral contraceptives (five or more years) may be associated with an increased risk of cancer of the cervix (the narrow, lower portion of the uterus. Although oral contraceptive use may increase the risk of cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV) is recognised as the major cause of this disease. A 2003 analysis by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found an increased risk of cervical cancer with longer use of oral contraceptives. Researchers analysed data from 28 studies that included 12,531 women with cervical cancer. The data suggested that the risk of cervical cancer may decrease after oral contraceptives use stops. In another IARC report, data from


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