Am I more likely to get a brain tumour if I’m on contraception or HRT?

2 min read

We understand there might be concern among our community following the news of a study which has highlighted a link between certain types of hormones (progestogens) used in contraception and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and meningioma brain tumours in women.

It is important to know that there are many different types of progestogens, and these findings are only relevant to a few specific progestogens found in some products, the majority of which are not prescribed in the UK. Reassuringly, the study revealed no association between meningioma and the most commonly prescribed progestogens in the UK, including IUD devices such as the Mirena coil, HRT, and birth control pills.   

Meningiomas are generally low-grade, non-cancerous brain tumours that occur most often in people aged over 65. They tend to be slow growing, non-aggressive, and in some cases do not cause significant symptoms; they can be treated with a ‘watch and wait’ approach, but some are removed by surgery.

The study, conducted in France and published in the British Medical Journal, found that there was an excess risk of meningioma associated with prolonged use of medroxyprogesterone acetate.

Medroxyprogesterone acetate is sometimes prescribed in the UK as the injectable contraceptive, Depo-Provera. Researchers acknowledge that further studies are needed to determine whether the link between the drug and meningioma is causal, but that the risk should be considered when using this form of contraception.

Dr Karen Noble, our Director of Research, Policy and Innovation, said: “Any increased understanding of the risk factors of brain tumours is beneficial to the brain tumour community; it may open doors to research on preventative measures, as well as increase our understanding of why these tumours arise in the first place.  

“However, the public needs to be cautious when digesting the results from a study such as this before taking action. Although this study has linked certain progestogen treatments to an increased risk of meningioma, it has also demonstrated the safety of other progestogen treatments which were shown to not increase risk. If you are concerned, it is recommended that you speak to your GP before stopping any prescribed treatment.”  

If you are unsure which type of progestogen your product contains, speak to your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

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