How have oral contraceptives changed over time?

Updated: Dec 26, 2019
  • Author: Graham A Colditz, MD, DrPH; Chief Editor: Chandandeep Nagi, MD  more...
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Since oral contraceptives were first introduced in the 1960s, they have been used by many millions of women. In 1988, over 10.7 million US women were oral contraceptive users. Most combined oral contraceptives contain ethinyl estradiol (or mestranol, which is metabolized to ethinyl estradiol) and a progestin.

The estrogen dose in oral contraceptives has ranged from 100 µg or more in 1960 to 20-30 µg in the more recent past, although formulations continue to change. Patterns of use have also changed considerably over time, with both increasing durations of use and a trend toward earlier ages at first use. Over 50 epidemiologic studies have evaluated the relationship between oral contraceptive use and breast cancer risk and have been combined in a reanalysis that provides a rigorous summary of evidence.

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