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The Pill Protects Against Cancer


5 Star

The Pill Protects Against Cancer

Our Review Summary

This article reports on a significant study that quanitifies the link between taking oral contraceptives and a reduced risk of ovarian cancer. 

The news report has several key strengths:

  • It describes the methodology of the meta-analysis in considerable detail 
  • It presents the size of the risk reduction in several ways–including the essential matter of how many women can expect to get ovarian cancer if they do or don’t take the pill
  • It explores possible explanations for the reduction in risk, and contains necessary cautions about the drugs’ side effects
  • It explains that women should not take the results to mean they should take oral contraceptives purely for the purposes of cancer risk reduction

The article also does a good job of putting the findings in a cultural context, indicating how many lives may have been saved, and how these effects are likely to spread to the developing world as more women there use oral contraceptives.



Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Oral contraceptives are inexpensive and often available discounted or free at health clinics. The article does not compare various methods of birth control (or preventing ovarian cancer) so cost is not an issue in this report.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The article does an excellent job explaining the benefits various ways:

  • The percentage overall reduction in risk
  • The number of women likely to get ovarian cancer with and without taking the pill
  • Percent reduction of risk per five-year period taking the drugs
  • The estimated number of cancer cases prevented 


Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The article briefly mentions the potential side effects of birth control pills, including the slightly elevated risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer, plus blood clots and high blood pressure. Given the dramatic findings about the reduced risk of ovarian cancer, this is useful information.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


The article is based on an ambitious meta-analysis, published in a top-tier journal, of many studies conducted over several decades. Its methodology is described in considerable detail.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The article does not exaggerate the seriousness or frequency of ovarian cancer.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The article draws on the study itself, the editorial published along with it, the lead author and two additional medical sources with knowledge in the field.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The article does an excellent job of mentioning other actions that can reduce ovarian cancer risk (having children, tying fallopian tubes) to explain why an oral medication that reduces risk is so valuable.

It also makes clear that no experts are suggesting women take birth control pills purely for cancer reduction–that the risk reduction, as the study’s lead author puts it high in the story, is "a nice bonus." 

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Oral contraceptives are widely used, and their availability is not an issue in this piece.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

The novelty of birth control pills or their protective benefits are not at issue in this report.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


There is no evidence the article draws on a press release.

Total Score: 7 of 7 Satisfactory


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