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Majority of people think that IUDs are associated with cervical cancers. However, contrary to popular belief, IUDs have been found to half the risk of developing cervical cancer. This conclusion is drawn by one of the largest epidemiological studies.

Contrary to Popular Belief, IUDs found to Half the Risk of Developing Cervical Cancer

Think of the possible side effects of IUDs and majority of people think that they are associated with cervical cancers. However, contrary to popular belief, IUDs have been found to half the risk of developing cervical cancer. This is the conclusion drawn by one of the largest epidemiological studies conducted till date, the results of which have been published in the latest issue of “The Lancet Oncology.”

In a study led by Xavier Castellsague of the cancer epidemiological research program at the Llobregat Hospital in Catalonia, the researchers analyzed data from ten case-control studies of cervical cancer done in eight countries, and 16 HPV prevalence surveys in women from 4 continents. They found that the use of coil contraceptives reduced the risk of developing cervical cancer by half within the first year of its use. This protective action lasts even after ten years of use of IUD.

The incidence of both major types of cervical cancers is reduced- the chances of developing squamous cell cancer are reduced by 44 % whereas the chances of developing adenocarcinoma or adeno-squamous carcinoma are reduced by 54%. Although the likelihood of being infected by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), the virus implicated in the pathogenesis of cervical cancer, is not reduced, coil contraceptives slow down the progression of the inflammation caused by HPV into cervical cancer.

Earlier studies had shown the benefit of using coil contraceptives in lowering the risk of endometrial cancer. Protection offered by them against cervical cancer is an added incentive.

Cervical Cancer is the Second Most Common Cancer Affecting Women

According to the World Health Organization statistics, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women. Almost 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed every year and 250,000 women succumb to it annually. HPV infection is believed to be the cause behind most of these cancers. Pharmaceutical companies like Merck and GlaxoSmithKline manufacture vaccines against HPV infection; and immunization against HPV has been taken up as a nationwide program by many countries.

IUDs are plastic and copper or hormone-containing contraceptive devices which prevent sperms from fertilizing eggs in the uterus. Many people earlier believed that these contraceptive coils can cause cervical cancer. However, the new study has brought to light, their protective action against cervical cancer.

It is still not very clear, how contraceptive coils protect against cancer. According to Castellsague, IUDs act as foreign bodies and stimulate inflammatory changes in the cervix. These changes prevent the HPV infection from progressing further and transforming into cancer. The IUDs possibly induce a low grade, chronic inflammatory response which can alter the immune status of the local mucosa and halt the progression of HPV infection. There are several other theories regarding their mechanism of action. Hormone releasing coils which release progesterone into the uterus may affect the natural progression of HPV infection. Local trauma caused while inserting the device may induce a small focus of chronic inflammation and provide immunity for a long time. This immunity may clear persistent HPV infections and any pre-invasive lesions in the cervical epithelium.

  • “Intrauterine device use, cervical infection with human papilloma virus, and risk of cervical cancer: a pooled analysis of 26 epidemiological studies”, Xavier Castellsague, Mireia Diaz et al, The Lancet Oncology, 2011, accessed on September 22, 2011
  • “Coils almost halve risk of cervical cancer: study’, by Kate Kelland, Reuters, published on September 12, 2011, accessed on September 22, 2011
  • Photo courtesy of misti_k on Flickr:

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