Intrauterine devices—the small hormonal or copper devices inserted into a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy—could also help prevent cervical cancer, says an international team of researchers publishing in The Lancet. The researchers analyzed 26 studies, which included data on nearly 20,000 women from 14 countries, and found the risk of cervical cancer in women who used IUDs was nearly half that of women who did not and never had.
Cervical cancer is caused mainly by the human papilloma virus (HPV). The researchers didn’t find a link between IUDs and lower risk of HPV infection, which suggests IUDs may cause an immune system response that can get rid of HPV once it’s already entered the body, they say.
“The hypothesis is that an IUD, because it’s a foreign body, creates an inflammatory response that gets rid of the HPV, which reduces the risk of cervical cancer,” Dr. Howard Jones, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told ABC News.
We’re written a lot about the benefits of IUDs around here—the copper Paragard IUD is one of the few forms of non-hormonal contraceptive on the market, and both it and the Mirena (its hormone-based counterpart) offer effective, long-term birth control that doesn’t require the daily diligence of the Pill or come with as many side effects other methods, such as the Nuva Ring. In June, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists officially endorsed IUDs as safe for women and teens to use.
If IUDs really turn out to be an HPV killer—well, what great news! At least 50% of sexually active people will contract HPV in their life times, according to the CDC. It’s the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States—and it’s linked to all sorts of cancers, not just cervical (about 35% of throat cancers may be caused by HPV). The HPV vaccine can protect women against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancer—but it’s only given to women through 26 years old, making it too late for many women to reap its benefits.
Previous studes have found IUD use reduces the risk of endometrial cancer, also.