Catholic church urged to give nuns the pill to protect against cancer

December 19, 2011 • Family Planning, Reproductive Health, Daily Email Recap

Thanks to Mark O’Connor for this article.  See

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8 December 2011, 2.32pm AEST

Catholic church urged to give nuns the pill to protect against cancer

By Matthew Thompson, Editor

We license our articles under Creative Commons – attribution, no derivatives.
A controversial article in Lancet suggests nuns should be prescribed the contraceptive pill to help reduce their high rates of cancer. AAP

The Catholic church should freely distribute the contraceptive pill to its almost 95,000 nuns in order to reduce their “greatly increased risk” of developing female-specific cancers, a paper published today in the Lancet says.

A comment-piece, “The Plight of nuns: hazards of nulliparity,” cites research directly linking the number of menstrual cycles a woman goes through to her risk of cancer, with younger arrival of periods or late onset of menopause being associated with higher cancer risk. Nuns, being childless, generally have no break from periods through their lives. The paper cites a study of US nuns showing that they suffer almost triple the rate of deaths from breast and uterine cancer as other women, and more than double the rate from uterine cancer.

Contraceptive pills have been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of ovarian and uterine cancer rates, the authors state, while forms of the pill are now available that suppress menstruation for months at a time or even altogether.

Professor John Hopper, a NHMRC Australia Fellow at the University of Melbourne, said that, if the paper’s recommendations were followed, it could put the church in an awkward position. “It’d be wonderfully ironic for the Catholics to say it’s OK to use the pill if you’re a nun, but not if you’re not.”

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