This Birth Control Could Slash Cervical Cancer Risk by One-Third

The largely misunderstood contraceptive is making a major comeback—here's one more reason why.

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People use birth control for all sorts of reasons, from protecting against pregnancy to combating problematic periods and ovarian cysts. And just as there are myriad reasons to use birth control, there are a range of birth control options on the market. One that is making a comeback is the intrauterine device (IUD). A previous version of the IUD, available in the 1970s and no longer on the market, caused infections because of a design flaw, but today many gynecologists recommend IUDs. The tiny T-shaped device which sits in the uterus is a popular form of birth control because it’s virtually mistake-proof (you don’t have to remember to take a pill every day), effective (99.9 percent), and long-lasting (up to five years). And according to new research, it looks like there’s even more to celebrate about the IUD than it just being a no-hassle, fool-proof device.

According to a report published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, IUD devices may reduce a woman’s risk of cervical cancer by about a third. The research suggests that the device may trigger an immune response that eliminates human papillomavirus (HPV), which is responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer.

“The data say the presence of the IUD in the uterus stimulates an immune response, and that immune response very, very substantially destroys sperm and keeps sperm from reaching the egg,” lead researcher Victoria Cortessis said, as reported by HealthDay. “It stands to reason the IUD might influence other immune phenomenon.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that about 14 million people become newly infected with HPV each year, and about one-half of these infections are with a high-risk HPV type that is linked to cancer.

Such grim statistics make the new study’s findings very hopeful, with the potential for the IUD to serve as a lifesaving device for many young women.

“The [HPV] vaccines don’t work unless the woman is vaccinated before she’s ever exposed to the virus,” Cortessis said. “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” they become exposed to HPV.

“Women in their 20s and 30s and 40s who haven’t been vaccinated are not going to be protected,” Cortessis said. “That means for decades to come this epidemic of cervical cancer is with us.” Find out what doctors wish you knew about cervical cancer.

Cortessis and her colleagues theorized that the IUD might impact the risk of cervical cancer due to its prevention of pregnancy by manipulating the female immune system. To put their theory to the test, the team analyzed medical literature to better understand the amount of IUD use in relation to cervical cancer.

The team came across 16 noteworthy studies that included almost 5,000 women who developed cervical cancer, and a little over 7,5000 women who did not. The researchers even considered individual cervical cancer risk factors, including previous pregnancy, HPV status, and the number of sexual partners, but found each factor did not affect their findings.

Jill Rabin, MD, co-chief of the division of ambulatory care with Women’s Health Programs-PCAP Services at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y., called the analysis “fascinating,” HealthDay reports, and boasted that this “is just one more reason potentially to help us recommend a great contraceptive method to women.”

Here’s how to gauge if an IUD is the best form of birth control for you.

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Alexa Erickson
Alexa Erickson is a lifestyle and news writer currently working with Reader's Digest, SHAPE Magazine, and various other publications. She loves writing about science news, health, wellness, food and drink, beauty, fashion, home decor, and her travels. Visit her site Living by Lex.