I was flipping through Time magazine last night during a lull in dinner preparation, and let me tell you, if you haven't picked up the recent edition, it's really quite something. The cover is dominated by one word, much as my blog is: The Pill. So small. So powerful. So controversial.
Except the article, in all fairness, wasn't particularly balanced. There were a few bland suppositions positing the theory that maybe this miracle drug isn't really "everything we've made it out to be," but for the most part, it was clear that the author - along with the culture at large - had long ago arrived at the forgone conclusion that the Pill is, unquestionably, one of the greatest inventions in human history.
But is it really?
The author cited a famous and oft-quoted 40 year study which followed selected women for 4 decades of contraceptive use, and whose statistics are regularly touted as proof positive that the pill is perfectly safe, and that any risks associated are perfectly acceptable. But there is a critical, fatal flaw in the applicability of the research in question; it doesn't take into account the drug's effect on younger women.
The drug companies are aware of this, of course. But they're also aware of their largest client base, and loath to put off potential customers with frightening and, in their minds, irrelevant information, so it's buried deep within the text of the manufacturer's insert included in every box.
To quote directly from Ortho-Tricyclen's manufacturer's information: "prolonged use of the Pill, particularly if taken for 5 consecutive years prior to a woman's first pregnancy, may increase your risk of being diagnosed with certain types of cancer." (Emphasis mine)
As it turns out, according to a study recently released by the Mayo Clinic, titled "Oral Contraceptive use as a Risk Factor for Pre-menopausal Breast Cancer: A Meta-analysis" and authored by Dr. Chris Kahlenborn:
"There is a measurable and statistically significant" connection between the pill and pre-menopausal breast cancer, re-enforcing the recent classification of
as Type 1 carcinogens."
That ruling from the International Agency for Cancer Research was supported by the report published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings last October.
However, the study that found that the risk association was 44 percent over baseline among women who had been pregnant who took oral contraceptives prior to their first pregnancy has been, to a large degree, ignored by many media organizations.
Hmmm, wonder why that could be? Aside from the obvious answers concerning profit margins and quarterly sales goals, one must at least acknowledge the fact that we want this, as a society and as a gender.
We want to control our bodies, our fertility, our lives... and it's evident by the way our culture lives, extolling progress and performance at any cost.
But there are consequences, particularly in this instance, for the convenience we seek. Serious consequences for our health, for the health of the environment, and for the health of society.
Because if fertility is a commodity, than we ourselves become machinated, to a certain extent. We expect great things from our bodies, and yet when they fail us in some way, we are often unable to correct the malfunction, to undo the damage we've done. Case in point: the ungodly rates of breast and cervical cancer we've seen in the past 40 years.
More on this later in the week, but I'll leave you with some points to ponder:
1. If there were a drug on the market directly correlated to rising rates of prostate cancer in men, would it be one of the top selling pharmaceuticals?
2. Why has so little research been publicized about the risks of contraceptive use in younger women, when girls between the ages of 15-22 are the most likely to be set on a regimen of oral contraceptive usage of any other age group?
3. Why aren't women angry - or even aware - that this is happening?
Think about it...