What once began as a great contraceptive option for women who didn’t want the responsibility of taking a tiny pill every day, IUDs are now the most commonly used form of reversible birth control around the world. And according to a recent meta-analysis published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, its list of noncontraceptive benefits is about to get longer: Your IUD can also decrease your risk of cervical cancer.
The meta-analysis of data discovered in 16 previous studies (including more than 12,000 women worldwide) led researchers to find a 30-percent decrease in cervical cancer in women who had ever used an IUD. “This is a hugely promising finding, especially for older, unvaccinated women and those in low-resource settings,” Houston Ob/GYN Wynne Duncan, MD says, adding that cervical cancer is the third most common malignancy among women. “Rates are expected to significantly increase.”
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Luckily, researchers are confident IUDs drop the risk of cervical cancer—lead author Victoria Cortessis, PhD, describes the pattern they found as “stunning” and “not subtle at all” in a press release—but they have yet to nail down the exact reason why. “Authors theorize IUDs may elicit an immune response by the body to fight off HPV,” adds Dr. Duncan. Another theory says the removal of an IUD can scrape off precancerous or HPV-infected cells.
“If we can demonstrate that the body mounts an immune response to having an IUD placed, for example, then we could begin investigating whether an IUD can clear a persistent HPV infection in a clinical trial,” says gynecologic oncologist and study coauthor Laila Muderspach, MD, in the release. “The results of our study are very exciting. There is tremendous potential.” Dr. Duncan agrees, stating that while more research is obviously needed, “this is an encouraging start.”