NOV 14, 2017 3:06 PM PST

IUDs May Have Unexpected Cancer Protection

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Image credit: Mirena-us.com

Ever since men and women understood how to have children, they've also been trying to understand how to prevent this process. And for those opting for intrauterine devices (IUDs), there may be a secondary health benefit: a potentially reduced risk of cervical cancer.

A recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that a whopping 62 percent of American women of childbearing age are using some form of birth control, exercising their right to choose when to have children, and how many children they want. Of the available methods, oral contraceptives are the most popular, used by around 10.6 million women. While intrauterine devices (IUDs) are less popular, this form of birth control has the highest success rate.

In a meta-analysis of 16 studies, researchers from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, found an interesting link between IUD use and cervical cancer incidence. Mainly, the rate of cervical cancer was about one-third lower in women who have used an IUD.

But because the study was not designed to investigate the cause of the correlation, the link between IUD use and reduced cervical cancer risk remains just that – a link.

"It looks real. It smells real, but to be really convinced, we need to go back and do studies to find a mechanism,” said Victoria Cortessis, an epidemiologist at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and the study’s lead author.

Of note, Invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in nearly 13,000 American women this year. Although routine Pap screening has significantly decreased the incidence of cervical cancer, the disease remains the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the US.

In nearly all cases, the source of cervical cancer can be traced back to a Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection. And the HPV infection point is where Cortessis thinks IUDs intervene. She hypothesized that the immune response triggered during an IUD insertion could be strong enough to also “kick out” the offending virus. This reaction could also extend long-term, affording years of protection to women with the IUD, she speculated.

Nevertheless, Cortessis emphasized the absence of causation in the current study. That means women shouldn’t get the device solely for the purpose of preventing cervical cancer. Currently, to prevent cervical cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends getting vaccinated against certain HPV infections, practicing safe sex, and getting regular Pap tests to screen for the presence of cancer cells.

Additional sources: Live Science

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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