Letter: Risks and benefits of contraceptive pill

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From Ms Ann Furedi

Sir: If women are to work, study, engage in social or political life - all the things we regard as our right - we must be able to prevent unwanted pregnancy ("A hard pill to swallow", 1 May). The contraceptive pill is one of the most effective, convenient and safe contraceptive options available. It is not surprising that it is chosen by 3 million women in the UK, 25 per cent of women of fertile age.

Women who opt to use the Pill are aware that, as with any medication, it is not risk-free. The contraceptive pill is available only on prescription after a doctor has assessed its suitability. Every Pill packet contains a leaflet comprehensively listing the side effects and adverse reactions that may be experienced and warnings of the circumstances in which a woman should not take it, or stop taking it. Women are not uninformed about the risks, as your article implies, rather the media seems all too willing to sensationalise the risks and play down the benefits of oral contraception.

The risk of death in childbirth (currently about 10 per 100,000 births) is still significantly greater than that from taking the Pill. The risk of death for non-smokers under 35 taking the Pill has been estimated at 1 in 77,000. The risk of being fatally injured while you are driving a car has been estimated at 1 in 6,000.

Little media attention is given to the well-researched fact that a woman is at higher risk of death if she does not take the Pill than if she does. The Pill reduces a woman's risk of ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer by 40 per cent. It also reduces risk of ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids and ovarian cysts and may lessen pre-menstrual syndrome. It is tragic that up to 15 women die each year from conditions which may be related to their use of the Pill, but the risks of Pill use must be kept in perspective.

Yours faithfully,



Birth Control Trust

London, W1

1 May