Recent research presented by the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California has discovered a link between the IUD contraceptive and lower risks of cervical cancer.
An intrauterine device (IUD)—also known as a coil—is a small T-shaped mechanism that is approximately one inch long. It is inserted into a woman’s uterus by an experienced nurse or doctor. They are available as a copper device, which disrupts sperm motility, or as a hormonal one that thickens the lining of the womb to prevent pregnancy. The device can be used for five or 10 years depending on the type you choose to have fitted. It remains one of the most effective contraceptives, working successfully over 99 percent of the time.
The recent report gathered data from several observational studies involving over 12,000 women worldwide, the results of which were published in the Obstetrics and Gynecology journal. Their findings showed that the risk of cervical cancer was reduced by a third in women from all around the world who used the IUD contraceptive. A mixture of developed countries—such as Spain—and under-developed countries—such as Kenya—contributed data to use within the study.
A meta-analysis such as this aims to pool information from relevant studies in order to increase the number of participants and to see if results are similar. When studies report consistent findings, a common association can be identified. However, this is only useful or reliable if the studies being analysed are of high quality.
The results were very revealing to the collaborators of the project. ‘The pattern we found was stunning. It was not subtle at all,’ commented Victoria Cortessis, the study’s lead author and associate professor of clinical preventive medicine at the Keck School. ‘The possibility that a woman could experience some help with cancer control at the same time she is making contraception decisions could potentially be very, very impactful.’
Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide but only the 13th most common for women in the UK. This is partly thought to be a result of the national cervical screening programme along with the more recent human papillomavirus virus (HPV) vaccination initiative.
While the results have cast an intriguing light upon the topic, it is not yet clear whether other factors could be have played a part. Other reasons may have affected the results such as the woman’s age, the type of IUD contraceptive (hormonal or copper) and how long the IUD was used for. Despite this uncertainty, the researchers involved believe the IUD could affect the tissue of the cervix, thereby reducing the risk of HPV infection—which causes at least 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.
‘At this point we can only hypothesise about how an IUD might decrease cervical cancer risk,’ Cortessis commented. The limitations of the study along with the wide-ranging sources of data mean the results cannot yet be generalisable to the UK population; however, the door is now open for further research to take place.
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