The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Thursday, May 19, 2016 (Volume 4: Issue: 18)

The Topic: Exporting Birth Control

The News Story: Birth Control by Drones

The New Research: A Prescription for Brain Cancer

The News Story: Birth Control by Drones 

Sophie Cousins at NPR writes that soon, women in remote areas may be able to receive birth control via drone. In other areas of health care, the use of drones as delivery mechanisms is catching steam. And in 2014, a group of “public health experts, local health authorities and private-sector partners” landed on the idea of using drones to distribute reproductive health materials to some of the more remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Just last year, the idea became reality: an unmanned drone dropped about 4.5 pounds of birth control, condoms, and “life-saving drugs” in remote areas of Ghana.

But research indicates that in such deliveries, the international community may perhaps be giving African women more than they bargained for.

(Sophie Cousins, “Condoms by Drone: A New Way to Get Birth Control to Remote Areas,” Goats and Soda, NPR, May 19, 2016.)


The New Research: A Prescription for Brain Cancer

Feminists consistently urge legislators to make contraception universal and free. The more women on the pill, the better “liberated” we all are. But a new study out of Denmark should make policymakers pause before jumping on the “free birth control for all” bandwagon.

In a paper in the British Journal of Pharmacology, researchers study the effect of oral contraceptive use on the risk of developing glioma, a type of cancerous brain tumor. The researchers establish the background for their study by pointing out that use of hormonal contraceptives “slightly increases” the risk of several types of cancer, including cervical cancer, breast cancer, and hepatocellular carcinoma. In spite of this increased risk, however, “few studies have examined any link with risk of central nervous system tumors.” This lack of research is a concern, because “[g]liomas are the most common type of malignant brain tumors in the Nordic countries.”

The researchers obtained their data from a host of national registries tracking Danish cancer patients. They reduced their sample to women between the ages of 15 and 49 “with a histologically verified first diagnosis of brain glioma during 2000-2009.” Subjects had no previous instance of cancer. “Ever use” of oral contraceptives was defined as women who had taken two prescriptions or more, while “non-use” was defined as fewer than two prescriptions. For IUDs, “ever use” was one prescription. The researchers also defined “recent use” as one prescription or less taken in the past 2-5 years. Type (combined estrogen-progestagen, progestagen-only, or mixed use) was also considered.

The findings? “Long-term use of hormonal contraceptives was associated with an increased risk of glioma that increased with duration of use.” In their sample, almost 60% of the sample and 50% of the controls had ever used hormonal contraceptives. The risk of developing glioma was higher for current or recent use (Odds Ratio of 1.7; 95% Confidence Interval: 1.3-2.4). Moreover, “the OR for glioma was elevated with use of combined estrogen and progestagen (OR, 1.4; 95% CI: 1.0-1.8) and highest for pregestagen-only (OR, 2.8; 95% CI: 1.6-5.1).” 

The authors summarize their findings: “Long-term use of hormonal contraceptives was associated with an increased risk of glioma that increased with duration of use. The risk estimates were particularly elevated for use of progestagen-only.” More recent use was associated with increased risk of glioma. Given “the extensive use of hormonal contraceptives,” the researchers write, “our finding merits further investigation.” 

Indeed. In a world in which hormonal contraceptives are often prescribed to girls as soon as they reach puberty, studies such as these should cause policymakers to think twice before handing out more free pills.


(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, New Research, The Family in America 29.1 [Winter 2015]. Study: Lene Andersen et al., “Hormonal Contraceptive Use and Risk of Glioma among Younger Women a Nationwide Case Control Study,” British Journal of Pharmacology 79.4 [April, 2015]: 677-84.)