IUDs and Cervical Cancer
by Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH
If you’re not ready to have another baby just yet, you’re probably using some method of birth control. The Pill is pretty effective, but only if you can remember to take it every day. How about an intrauterine device, fondly known as the IUD? Once your doctor inserts it, you can relax and forget about it. Even better, the results of a new study* published in the medical journal, The Lancet Oncology, show that IUDs reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
Researchers found that women who used IUDs had half the risk of developing cervical cancer compared to those that had never used an IUD. These results are quite contrary to the urban legend that IUDs could be a risk factor for developing cervical cancer.
The development of cervical cancer is linked to infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). In their study, the researchers found that the use of an IUD did not affect the risk of HPV infection, but it was associated with a significantly lower risk of cervical cancer for both major cervical cancer types. Use of IUDs reduced the likelihood of developing squamous-cell carcinoma by 44 percent and adenocarcinoma or adenosquamous carcinoma by 54 percent.
The researchers concluded that while the IUD doesn’t reduce the risk of HPV infection, but it does appear to reduce the chances that HPV infection will progress to cervical cancer. Why? Insertion and removal of the IUD could destroy precancerous lesions, the scientists theorize. Or it could be that the IUD might induce a low-grade inflammation and a long-lasting immune response. Both actions could reduce the likelihood that HPV infection will progress to cervical cancer.
In the study, the duration of IUD use did not significantly alter cervical cancer risk. The risk was reduced by nearly half in the first year of use and the protective effect remained strong even after a decade of use.
If you’re looking for a safe, effective means of birth control with some bonus benefits, ask your doctor if an IUD is right for you.
* Xavier Castellsagué, Mireia Díaz, Salvatore Vaccarella, Silvia de Sanjosé, Nubia Muñoz, Rolando Herrero, Silvia Franceschi, Chris J L M Meijer, F Xavier Bosch. Intrauterine device use, cervical infection with human papillomavirus, and risk of cervical cancer: a pooled analysis of 26 epidemiological studies. The Lancet Oncology, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(11)70223-6.