Beyond ovulation: oral contraceptives and epithelial ovarian cancer

Epidemiology. 2000 Mar;11(2):106-10. doi: 10.1097/00001648-200003000-00005.


In a case-control study in three Australian states that included 794 women with epithelial ovarian cancer and 853 community controls for whom we had adequate contraceptive and reproductive histories, we examined the effects of oral contraceptive use after controlling for estimated number of ovulatory cycles. Other covariates included in the multiple logistic regression analysis were parity, smoking, and history of pelvic surgery. The protective effect of duration of oral contraceptive use appeared to be multiplicative, with a 7% decrease in relative risk per year [95% confidence interval (CI) = 4-9%], persisting beyond 15 years of exposure. Use for up to 1 year may have a greater effect than predicted (odds ratio = 0.57; 95% CI = 0.40-0.82), whereas use before the first pregnancy may be additionally beneficial (odds ratio = 0.95; 95% CI = 0.87-1.03, adjusted for overall duration of use). Better control for ovulatory life might attenuate these estimates somewhat. There was little evidence of waning protection with time since last exposure or of extra benefit with early commencement of oral contraceptive use. We found no convincing evidence of effect modification in any factor examined or differences in effect among the three main histologic cancer types or between borderline and malignant tumors. Oral contraceptives may act by both suppressing ovulation and altering the tumor-promoting milieu.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Australia
  • Body Mass Index
  • Carcinoma / pathology
  • Carcinoma / prevention & control*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Contraceptives, Oral / administration & dosage
  • Contraceptives, Oral / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hysterectomy
  • Linear Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Ovulation / drug effects
  • Ovulation / physiology*
  • Parity
  • Registries


  • Contraceptives, Oral