Washington: Intrauterine devices (IUDs), which have long promoted as effective and safest methods of birth control, may also protect against cervical cancer, a new
study has claimed.
The study, published in The Lancet Oncology, found that women who used the implanted contraceptive had almost half the risk for developing cervical cancer, caused by infection with the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV).
Although doctors believed that women who use IUDs have a lower risk of cancer of the lining of the uterus, they never suspected that the devices might protect against tumours of the cervix, said lead researcher Xavier Castellsague at Institut Catala d`Oncologia in Barcelona, Spain.
In fact, researchers suspected IUDs might increase the risk of cervical cancer. "These findings are excellent good news," Castellsague was quoted as saying by USA Today.
The researchers, who analysed 26 studies involving more than 20,000 women to find out the prevalence of HPV infection, found IUD use reduced the risk of squamous-cell carcinoma -- acancer of outer cervix -- by 44 per cent and cut the risk of adenocarcinomas, a cancer of inner cervix, by 54 per cent.
However, the researchers said they cannot fully explain why an IUD might fight cancer.
Unlike a condom, the IUDs don`t create a physical barrier against the virus. In the study, using an IUD didn`t affect a woman`s risk of being infected with HPV, Castellsague said.
But it`s possible that an IUD prevents the virus from progressing to cancer, he said.
By causing a chronic, low-level irritation in the cervix, an IUD may rev up a woman`s immune system, as if her body were trying to heal a wound, according to an ccompanying editorial by Karl Ulrich Petry of the Klinicum Wolfsburg in Germany.
That small immune boost may be enough to clear persistent HPV infections and even get rid of precancerous lesions.
Still, it`s too soon to begin recommending IUDs for cervical cancer prevention, said Carol Brown, a cervical cancer expert at New York`s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Researchers will need to confirm this finding with larger, more rigorous trials before they can be sure about the IUD`s benefits, Brown added.