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Women who use IUDs may have lower risk of cervical cancer

09 November 2017

"It was not subtle at all", said the study's lead author, Victoria Cortessis, PhD, associate professor of clinical preventive medicine at the Keck School.

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Of all the women who were surveyed, those who used the coil had a third less incidence of cervical cancer.

After analyzing the results, they found that the rate of cervical cancer was one-third lower in women who used IUDs compared to those who did not.

The analysis is "fascinating", and the potential explanation for why an IUD might reduce cervical cancer risk "really does make sense", said women's health specialist Dr. Jill Rabin.

"I think what we're ready to say is that this pattern is what you would expect if" it was true that IUDs reduced the risk of cervical cancer, Cortessis said.

She said it would add to the benefits of using an IUD and would be especially helpful for women who may not have access to HPV vaccines.

The most important risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is spread through sexual activity.

However, the study only showed an association between IUDs and a lower risk of cervical cancer.

Confounding variables - or factors that the researcher can't control for - have always been a worry in research on IUDs and cervical cancer, Franco told Live Science. However, the pooled analysis is only clinically useful if the underlying studies are high quality.

Cortessis and her colleagues suspected that the IUD might influence risk of cervical cancer because it prevents pregnancy through manipulation of the female immune system.

The methodology used by the researchers was "very good", said Eduardo Franco, the director of cancer epidemiology at McGill University in Montreal, who was not involved in the new review.

"[The study] is unlikely to change clinical practice and women's opinions regarding IUD". "That's why we want 11- and 12-year-olds to be vaccinated, so they have time to be fully vaccinated and have a robust immune response before" first exposure. Most of the time, HPV infections go away on their own, but when they do not, they can lead to genital warts and various kinds of cancer, including but not limited to cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or throat - and, of course, the cervix. If this infection is gone, then the cervical cancer chances also get smaller.

Women in developed countries are not only more likely to have had the HPV vaccine, but they are also more likely to have better access to healthcare and have had regular cervical cancer screening. There are two types of IUD.

"It raises the need for further research to be done to see if that is in fact the case", said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. Omitting age at fitting is also problematic because the World Health Organization has found that age is a highly influential factor in HPV prevalence: the earlier a woman has the coil fitted, the greater the protection against HPV infection she may get.