Jun 1, 1991
Although initial studies examining the relationship of oral contraceptives to risk of cervical neoplasia were reassuring, more recent studies provide some evidence of a positive relationship, particularly for long-term usage. Results, however, are difficult to interpret, because of a variety of methodologic complexities, including potential sources of confounding and bias. Sexual behavior and Pap smear screening have been identified as important confounders, but in several well-controlled studies residual excess risks of nearly 2-fold persist for users of 5 or more years. A possible promotional effect of oral contraceptives is suggested by higher risks associated with recent usage. There also is some suggestion of a stronger effect for adenocarcinomas than for squamous cell tumors. A relationship is biologically possible, given findings of hormone receptors in cervical tissue and the fact that oral contraceptives have been found to induce cervical hyperplasia. In addition, oral contraceptives may induce proliferation of the human papillomaviruses, the leading suspect agent for cervical cancer. Although a number of lines of evidence support a relationship of oral contraceptives to cervical cancer risk, firm conclusions await the results of additional studies that specifically address some of the methodologic shortcomings of previous investigations. In particular, additional follow-up studies are needed to define the effect of oral contraceptives on the natural history of cervical lesions.