Women who have taken the pill may live longer because they face less risk of heart disease and cancer, according to new study led by Dr. Philip Hannaford from Scotland’s University of Aberdeen. The study, published this week in the British Medical Journal, followed more than 46,000 female patients from 1,400 medical practices throughout the U.K. for up to 39 years. They found that, women who had taken oral contraception at some point in their lives had a lower risk of death from any cause compared with those who had never taken the pill.
Women who had used oral contraception had lower rates of death due to all forms of cancer, including uterine, ovarian and bowel cancers. Additionally, those who had taken the pill had significantly lower rates of death due to heart disease or stroke. Oddly, and inexplicably, researchers did find that women who used the pill tended to have higher rates of violent death.
The study indicates that, not only does oral contraception not increase risk for disease or death, but it may provide some protection and even increase longevity for women. Still, Hannaford was careful to qualify these findings, emphasizing that this large-scale study included women taking the first generation of birth control pills—which tended to have higher levels of estrogen than those marketed today—and that, while it is likely that later generation birth control pills would yield similar results, additional research on those pills is necessary. As Hannaford told the BBC:
“It would be wrong for me to say these results directly apply to today’s pills, today’s women, but from the few studies that have been done on the newer pills we are finding similar effects as the older pills. So one would suppose that the overall benefit from the newer pills is equally as good.”
Women who take birth control pills do need to consider potential risks, including an increased risk for blood clots, and should discuss their medical histories with their doctors prior to taking the pill. While the study found that, overall taking the pill at some point in life reduced a woman’s risk of death due to cancer or other conditions, researchers did find a slightly increased risk for death from any caused among women younger than 45 who had stopped using the pill five to nine years earlier. After 10 years, however, that additional risk disappeared, and benefits to longevity later in life offset those initial heightened risks, the researchers concluded.
It is important for women considering the birth control pill to be aware of any potential contraindications. As gynecologist and obstetrician Dr. Katharine O’Connell White told TIME in August, women who have high blood pressure, migraines with aura, are smokers over age 35 and women with a personal or family history of blood clots should not take the pill.