The pill is given health all-clear

Women who have ever used the contraceptive pill are less likely to die from any cause, including all types of cancer and heart disease, one of the world's biggest studies has confirmed.

Younger women under 45 are at slightly increased risk of disease but this is more than outweighed by the lower risk among older women, the latest findings show. In addition the slightly increased risk in younger women disappears within 10 years of stopping the pill.

The reassuring results come after decades of scares which have linked the pill with increased rates of blood clots, stroke, heart disease and cancer.

The Royal College of General Practitioners oral contraceptive study followed 46,000 women for almost 40 years.

The study found there were 52 fewer deaths per 100,000 "women years" – a composite measure of the number of women and the lengths of their lives – among all women who had ever used the pill compared with those who had never used it. Slightly higher rates were found among younger women with 20 more deaths per 100,000 women years among those under 30, compared with women not on the pill, and four more deaths per 100,000 among those aged 30-39.

However at age 50-59 there were 86 fewer deaths, and 308 fewer among women over 70 who had ever used the pill. Professor Richard Anderson of the University of Edinburgh, said the results were "enormously reassuring".

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