I've been on the pill for almost 10 years now. Is that bad?
In general, as long as you're healthy and you don't smoke, you can take birth control pills as long as you want, up until a few years postmenopause. Oral contraceptives are among the best-studied drugs available, with more than 50 years of research backing their safety.
Some doctors used to prescribe regular breaks from the pill, but this is no longer advised because it makes no difference to your health (and can lead to an unwanted pregnancy!). It's also a myth that use of the pill affects fertility in the long term; research reveals that women who have been on the pill have the same odds of becoming pregnant as women who have never taken it.
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That said, like any medicine, the pill does come with some risk. For example, stroke or blood clots can happen, especially if you smoke or have high blood pressure. And long-term use (defined as longer than five years) has been associated with an increased chance of cervical cancer. Some studies suggest that the pill may also put you at a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. However, all these diseases are still rare among younger women. Plus, other research shows that the pill may actually help protect against cancers of the ovaries and endometrium (the lining of your uterus).
Ultimately, sticking with the pack is a decision you should make with your doctor, weighing your personal risk factors, lifestyle, and family history to gauge what's right for you.
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Health's medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and co-founder of Tula Skincare.
Meet Dr. Raj at the Health Total Wellness Weekend at Canyon Ranch in May 2015. For details, go to Health.com/TotalWellness.