Now there's another excellent reason to consider (or reconsider) the IUD for birth control: In a study involving more than 20,000 women from different countries, researchers report that the IUD may offer protection against cervical cancer. Interestingly, they suggest that the annoying process of inserting and removing the device might be the very thing that destroys precancerous lesions or triggers a protective immune response. The study was published in The Lancet Oncology.
Here's more from the press release:
The results show that women who uses IUD halved the risk of developing cervical cancer compared to those that had not ever used [the device]. These results are contrary to popular belief that IUD could be a risk factor of cervical cancer. Previous studies on possible effects of IUDs use on the development of this cancer have yielded inconsistent results...
IUD use did not affect the risk of HPV infection, but was associated with a significantly lower risk of cervical cancer for both major cervical cancer types —reducing the likelihood of developing squamous-cell carcinoma by 44% and adenocarcinoma or adenosquamous carcinoma by 54%.
Interestingly, the length of IUD use did not significantly alter cervical cancer risk. The risk was reduced by nearly half in the first year of use and the protective effect remained significant even after 10 years of use.
The authors say that "the associations found in our study strongly suggest that IUD use does not modify the likelihood of prevalent HPV infection [the cause of cervical cancer], but might affect the likelihood of HPV progression to cervical cancer."
They suggest a number of possible explanations for the protective effect of IUDs including that the process of device insertion or removal destroys precancerous lesions or that it induces chronic mucosal inflammation and a long lasting immune response, thereby reducing the likelihood of HPV progression.
This program aired on September 13, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.