Even celibate nuns should take contraceptive pills
According to a comment piece published in 'The Lancet', like any other nulliparous women, or those who do not have children, Catholic nuns are also have an increased risk of dying from breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer compared with women who bear children.
This is because women who never give birth or breastfeed have more periods than those who do, and an increased number of menstrual cycles has been linked to higher cancer risk.
Since the contraceptive pill reduces overall mortality and mortality due to ovarian and uterine cancer, Catholic nuns should also be given the pill for health, rather than contraceptive, reasons, the researchers said.
In their paper, Dr Kara Britt from Monash University and Prof Roger Short from the University of Melbourne in Australia said: "The Catholic church condemns all forms of contraception except abstinence, as outlined by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968.
"Although Humanae Vitae never mentions nuns, they should be free the use the contraceptive pill to protect against the hazards of nulliparity (never giving birth) 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."
According to the authors, studies have shown that overall mortality in women using the contraceptive pill is 12 per cent lower than in never-users.
The risk of developing ovarian and endometrial cancers falls by 50-60 per cent among those who use the contraceptive pills compared with the non-users, a protection that persists for 20 years and shows a clear long-term benefit, the authors said.
More than 94,700 nuns in the world still pay a price "for their chastity because they have a greatly increased risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers: the hazards of their nulliparity", they added.