The conventional regimen of oral contraceptive (OC) use mimics the natural cycles by causing regular withdrawal bleeding, which can be avoided by omission of the hormone-free interval of 7 days. Consequently, long-cycle regimens with continuous administration of OCs for 3 or 6 months followed by a hormone-free interval of 7 days may reduce the frequency of menstruations and cycle-dependent complaints. Surveys have revealed that, despite a higher rate of irregular bleeding, the majority of women prefer the long-cycle regimen to the conventional OC regimen with regular bleeds every 4 weeks because it may improve quality of life. As this regimen increases the contraceptive efficacy to a large degree, continuous treatment with OCs may prevent unintended pregnancies in women who miss a pill or are concomitantly treated with drugs that are able to impair the efficacy of OCs. Postponement of withdrawal bleeding may also reduce or prevent menses-associated disorders such as hypermenorrhoea and dysmenorrhoea, and have beneficial effects in patients with haemorrhagic diathesis, endometriosis, uterine leiomyoma and polycystic ovary syndrome. Continuous use of OCs prevents the cyclic fluctuations of serum levels of ethinylestradiol and progestogen and, hence, the cyclic variations of metabolic serum parameters. Although the long-cycle regimen is initially associated with an elevated rate of irregular bleeding, the total number of bleeding days that require sanitary product protection is lower than during conventional OC treatment. Many physicians tend to prescribe extended OC cycles for postponement of menstruation or reduction of frequency of regular bleeding. This review summarises and examines the available data on OC long-cycle regimens. The data suggest that the rate of treatment-related side effects with OCs according to the long-cycle regimen is similar to that of conventional OC regimens. However, clinical trials are necessary to assess the impact of long-term OC long cycles on safety, particularly the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and fertility after discontinuation of treatment.
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