If an IUD is inserted, an immune reaction in the body that can “kick out” an HPV infection.
Women who use an intrauterine device for birth control may have a lower risk of developing cervical cancer, according to a new review and meta-analysis.
In the new study, published yesterday (Nov. 8) in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, the researchers found that the number of cases of cervical cancer was a third lower in women who have an intrauterine device (IUD) than in those who did not use such a device.
The researchers warned that, because the review does not include clinical work to determine how an IUD can avoid cervical cancer, the results do not mean that people need to get of the device for the prevention of cancer, said lead author Victoria Cortessis, an epidemiologist at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
But the findings are striking, Cortessis told Live Science.
“I think we’re ready to say is that this pattern is what you would expect if” it was true that Iuds decrease in the risk of cervical cancer, Cortessis said. “It looks real. It smells really, but really to be convinced, we need to go back and do studies to find a mechanism.”
The researchers said they now plan to study the mechanisms by which Iuds can reduce the rate of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is almost always caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), according to the World Health Organization. But only 1 in 10 women who have an HPV infection to develop cervical cancer, Cortessis said. This happens when the immune system of the body does not kill off the HPV and the viral infection continues, eventually causing cervical cancer.
An IUD may lower a woman’s risk of cervical cancer by helping to fight off an HPV infection, Cortessis hypothesis. If an IUD is inserted, an immune reaction in the body that can “kick out” an HPV infection, she said. Another possible mechanism would be a long-term immune response, ” she said. The immune system responds over time to the foreign body of the IUD and the immune response can also focus on the HPV, Cortessis said.
In the meta-analysis, the researchers looked at 16 studies that included a total of more than 12,000 women from around the world. All of the studies contained data about the individual women, their IUD use and their history of cervical cancer. The study also included information about the risk factors for the disease, such as the age at first vaginal intercourse and when the women had HPV.
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The methodology used by the researchers was “very good”, said Eduardo Franco, director of cancer epidemiology at McGill University in Montreal, who was not involved in the new test.
Confounding variables or factors that the researcher can’t control — have long been a worry in research on Iuds and cervical cancer, Franco told Live Science. And despite the analysis of confounding variables and robust size of the review, there are still concerns about the continued confounding variables until there is a clinical study, ” he said.
Cortessis agreed that confounding variables are a limitation of the meta-analysis. But it does not matter how the data is tested against these variables, the researchers found the same results, she said, The rate of cervical cancer in IUD users was a third lower than among non-users.
“It is wonderful, really,” Cortessis said.
Access to preventive services such as screenings, cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine is driving the rates of cancer in some parts of the world, but the rates have increased in others, according to the review. The researchers noted that Iuds appeared to have the strongest influence on populations that had less access to these services
For the sake of these women, Cortessis said she is hopeful that clinical trials will confirm her analysis. “These are the ladies who need it the most,” she said. “Rates are going to explode in the coming decades, if we don’t find something very, very impressive to do to young ladies.”
Originally published on Live Science.