A recent study confirmed a link between breast cancer and hormonal birth control (including pills but also the patch, implant and some IUDs). Give yourself two seconds to freak out, then take a deep breath, and let's discuss.
Photo by Surija.
The news here is actually not that there is a link between the two at all, but that the link that was found decades ago still applies today, even with the smaller doses of hormones in modern pills. For a good explanation of what the study found, I like NPR's coverage. Especially this part about how big of a risk we're really talking:
The risk contributed by hormonal contraception, [Mia Gaudet, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society] says, is similar to the extra breast cancer risk contributed by physical inactivity, excessive weight gain in adulthood, or drinking an average of one or more alcoholic drinks per day.
So if you wouldn't be overly concerned about lacking a gym habit or drinking a nightly glass of wine, you probably shouldn't be alarmed about this either. If you are kind of freaking out a little, you might want to know that copper IUDs do not contain any hormones, and they're an excellent option for many people.
But here's the thing. Even though hormonal birth control increases your risk for breast cancer, it also decreases your risk of ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and possibly colorectal cancer. In total, hormonal contraceptives seem to be either neutral or beneficial to your overall cancer risk.