Wyeth Pharmaceuticals plans to release Lybrel, a contraceptive pill, and it is expected to be available in July. The idea that a woman can take a birth control pill for longer than a month and thereby reduce the number of menstrual periods has been marketed by other companies under Seasonale and Seasonique for a few years. These products are taken for about three months (rather than three weeks) and then the patient stops for a week to have a period. It is likely that Lybrel will be used the same way only for a year.
Many women may be concerned about not having a monthly, regular menstrual flow. Some feel it is not right or healthy or may cause illness. In reality, there is no evidence that a monthly menstrual flow is necessary for good health or a healthy reproductive life. This assumes, of course, that the absence of a period is not caused by some underlying problem. Gynecologists have, for decades, used the birth control pill in exactly this way to treat a variety of gynecologic conditions such as endometriosis, debilitating menstrual pain, or menstrual migraine. They have just used available oral contraceptives in a continuous manner rather than a cyclic manner.
Though we don’t have long-term information on safety, it is likely that this new pill will be as safe as other oral contraceptives and have similar cardiovascular risks (especially in smokers).
The real question is whether this pill offers anything new to women. The doses of the estrogen and progesterone component are comparable to current pills and therefore offers no new safety benefits. It may be appropriate for some women with the above mentioned problems, however. Some women may like the idea of not having a period, but many are unsure it is a good idea.
However, continuous hormonal therapy like this does increase the risk of break-through bleeding. This is bleeding when you’re not supposed to bleed. Break-through bleeding occurs in 2-5% of all oral contraceptive users. With this new pill, approximately 18% of women dropped out of the study because of unpredictable bleeding or spotting. This would be a drawback for many women. It will be up to women to decide for themselves if this new formulation offers any improvement in their current choices for contraception.