Contraceptive injections have been linked to five times more risk of brain tumours

a person holding a syringe
Contraceptive injections linked to brain tumoursPaper Boat Creative - Getty Images

A new study has found a link between progestogen medications and an increased risk of brain tumours.

The study, which was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) by researchers at France’s National Agency for Medicines and Health Products Safety, found that ongoing use of certain progestogen medications correlated to a greater risk of meningioma.

Meningioma are tumours that form in tissues around the brain and spinal cord. While they are often benign (non-cancerous), the location of these tumours can still result in serious health issues. This can include changes in vision, loss of hearing, smell and memory, as well as seizures and weakness in the arms or legs.

One progestogen-based medication known medroxyprogesterone acetate, a contraceptive injection sold as Depo-Provera, was associated with a five times increased risk of developing meningioma, according to the report.

The news may seem alarming; progestogen treatments are used by millions of women across the world either as contraceptive medicine, or to treat gynaecological conditions, such as endometriosis.

contraceptive options
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However, medroxyprogesterone acetate injections are not commonly used in the UK, with Paul Pharoah, a professor of cancer epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in the US, explaining the findings in the study did not relate to UK prescriptions on the whole.

"It is important that women do not stop using their birth control pills without consulting their doctor," Pharoah told The Times.

In response to the study's findings, a spokesperson from support charity Endometriosis UK told Cosmopolitan UK: "We often hear of those with severe symptoms like pelvic pain that affects day-to-day life being given medication without proper discussion of issues such as side effects, what the underlying issue may be, and other possible treatments.

It is important that anyone prescribed medicines to potentially manage endometriosis symptoms is counselled about the range of treatments available and their pros and cons, including the evidence around risks and side effects. There should always be a chance to ask questions, and support to make an informed choice based on the individual, with an understanding of why they are being prescribed this medication."

The findings have now prompted experts to call for more studies into the safety of hormone-based medications.

In response to the study, Pfizer, the manufacturer of Depo-Porvera, said: “We are aware of this potential risk associated with long-term use of progestogens and, in collaboration with regulatory agencies, are in the process of updating product labels and patient information leaflets with appropriate wording.”

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