Nuns should take ‘the pill to reduce risk of cancer’

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 and breastfeeding reduce the number of ovulatory cycles a woman has. More ovulatory cycles increase the risk of cancer. Women who begin their periods early and reach 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 United States established that their death rates from breast, ovarian and uterine cancer were higher than those of other women 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 reduce the overall mortality rates of women by 12%. The risk of developing ovarian and endometrial cancers decreases by 50% to 60% among pill-users compared with those who have never used the pill — offering protection that ­persists for 20 years. However, there is an increased risk of blood clots.

Writing in the medical journal The Lancet, Dr Kara Britt and Professor Roger Short said 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. Nuns are not mentioned in Humanae Vitae.

But 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’.”

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Tunisia struggles to grow more wheat as Ukraine war bites

Since the Ukraine war sent global cereal prices soaring, import-dependent Tunisia has announced a push to grow all its own durum wheat, the basis for local staples like couscous and pasta.

Democracy under serious and sustained attack from within the US

Far-right Republicans and the conservative supreme court are working on a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime

Grilling for UK leader Boris Johnson after top ministers quit

The prime minister has faced lawmakers' questions after two of the most senior figures in his government resigned. The finance and health ministers said they could no longer tolerate the culture of scandal

Declare an ‘energy emergency’, says National Planning Commission

The commission said the goals of the National Development Plan, which it is charged with advancing, ‘cannot be achieved without energy security’

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…