Oral contraceptives cause evolutionarily novel increases in hormone exposure: A risk factor for breast cancer.
Evol Med Public Health. 2017 ;2017(1):97-108. Epub 2017 Jun 5. PMID: 28685096
Jennie L Lovett
In the evolutionary past, women spent most of their reproductive lives either pregnant or in lactational amenorrhea, and rarely menstruated. The current pattern of frequent menses, and the associated increase in endogenous hormonal exposure, has been implicated in the current breast cancer epidemic. It is not known, however, whether oral contraceptives further increase, or actually decrease, hormonal exposure over one menstrual cycle. Here, we examined variation in hormonal exposure across seven oral contraceptive (OC) formulations, and produced the first quantitative comparison of exogenous versus endogenous hormone exposure.Data from 12 studies of serum estradiol (E2) and progesterone (P4) were aggregated to create a composite graph of endogenous hormone levels over one menstrual cycle in European or American women (age 19-40 years). Pharmacokinetic package insert data, also from Western women, were used to calculate exposures for hormones in seven different OC formulations. Endogenous and exogenous hormone levels were compared after adjusting for the relative binding affinity (RBA) of progestin to the progesterone receptor and ethinyl estradiol (EE) to the estrogen receptor.After adjusting for RBA, median ethinyl estradiol exposure across 28 days in the OCs was 11.4 nmol/l, similar to median E2 exposure. One formulation, however, was 40% higher in ethinyl estradiol exposure relative to median endogenous estradiol. Median exposure from progestins in OCs (1496 nmol/l) was 4-fold higher than the median endogenous exposure from P4 (364 nmol/l). Exposure from OC progestins ranged from one sixtieth to 8-fold median endogenous P4 over 28 days.Given that breast cancer risk increases with hormonal exposure, our finding that four widely prescribed formulations more than quadruple progestin exposure relative to endogenous progesterone exposure is cause for concern. As not all formulations produce the same exposures, these findings are pertinent to contraceptive choice. We also identify critical gaps in the provision of relevant data on pharmacokinetics and carcinogenicity by drug manufacturers.