Background: Women with mutations in either the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene have a high lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. Oral contraceptives protect against ovarian cancer in general, but it is not known whether they also protect against hereditary forms of ovarian cancer.
Methods: We enrolled 207 women with hereditary ovarian cancer and 161 of their sisters as controls in a case-control study. All the patients carried a pathogenic mutation in either BRCA1 (179 women) or BRCA2 (28 women). The control women were enrolled regardless of whether or not they had either mutation. Lifetime histories of oral-contraceptive use were obtained by interview or by written questionnaire and were compared between patients and control women, after adjustment for year of birth and parity.
Results: The adjusted odds ratio for ovarian cancer associated with any past use of oral contraceptives was 0.5 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.3 to 0.8). The risk decreased with increasing duration of use (P for trend, <0.001); use for six or more years was associated with a 60 percent reduction in risk. Oral-contraceptive use protected against ovarian cancer both for carriers of the BRCA1 mutation (odds ratio, 0.5; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.3 to 0.9) and for carriers of the BRCA2 mutation (odds ratio, 0.4; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.2 to 1.1).
Conclusions: Oral-contraceptive use may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer in women with pathogenic mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.