Taking the contraceptive pill may protect women against bowel cancer, scientists said today.
A study indicates that the Pill may reduce the risk of suffering the disease by up to 20%.
The research, led by Dr Carlo La Vecchia from the Institute of Pharmacological Research in Milan, pooled the results of 19 international studies looking at bowel cancer rates for women who had taken an oral contraceptive between the mid 1960s and 1980s.
The findings were published in the British Journal of Cancer to coincide with Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.
Death rates for bowel cancer were already known to have dropped more in women than in men over the past two decades. Scientists suspected that this was probably because of the effect of hormones in the Pill.
Dr La Vecchia said: "For a while now we have suspected oestrogen in the Pill could protect against bowel cancer and our research has gone some way to confirm this.
"Mortality rates for female bowel cancer have steadily dropped over the last 20 years - we believe this is partly due to the Pill.
"In the future, it may be possible to develop new treatments that take advantage of the anti-cancer qualities of the Pill."
Researchers believe the trend can be explained by the way the female hormone oestrogen works in the body.
Oestrogen reduces levels of bile acids, which have been linked to colon cancer.
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