Nuns should be given the contraceptive pill to reduce the high death rates from breast, ovarian and uterine cancer that result from their childlessness, say scientists.
Not having children is a risk factor for cancer because pregnancy, as
well as breastfeeding a baby, reduces the number of ovulatory cycles a
woman has in her lifetime. More ovulatory cycles increases cancer risk.
Women who begin their periods at an early age and hit the menopause late
also have a higher risk.
In the first half of the 20th century, scientists who studied nearly
32,000 Catholic nuns in the US established that their death rates from
breast, ovarian and uterine cancer were higher than for other women of
their age. In 1970, it was formally recognised that the lack of
childbearing in nuns raised their breast cancer risk.
The oral contraceptive pill has been shown to have a protective
effect. It reduces the overall mortality rates of women who have ever
taken it by 12% compared with non-users. The risk of developing ovarian
and endometrial cancers falls by 50%-60% in pill users compared with
never-users, protection that persists for 20 years. There is an
increased risk of blood clots, however.
Writing in the Lancet, Dr Kara Britt from Monash University,
Melbourne, and Professor Roger Short from the University of Melbourne
says nuns should have the option to take the pill. "The Catholic church
condemns all forms of contraception, as outlined by Pope Paul VI in
Humanae Vitae in 1968. Although Humanae Vitae never mentions nuns, they
should be free to use the contraceptive pill to protect against the
hazards of nulliparity since the document states that 'the church in no
way regards as unlawful therapeutic means considered necessary to cure
organic diseases, even though they also have a contraceptive effect.'?
If the Catholic church could make the contraceptive pill freely
available to all its nuns, it would reduce the risk of those accursed
pests, cancer of the ovary and uterus, and give nuns' plight the
recognition it deserves," they write.
Source: Sarah Boseley, guardian.co.uk, 7 December 2011