IUDs May Have A Major Health Benefit Beyond Birth Control

by Natalia Lusinski
Originally Published: 
Close up of an IUD on an orange background
Image Point Fr/Shutterstock

A new study from the Keck School of Medicine of USC has found that intrauterine device (IUD) use is associated with a large decrease in the incidence of cervical cancer, according to ScienceDaily. The news was published in Obstetrics & Gynecology on Nov. 7. This is significant primarily because it was the first study to combine data from multiple studies on IUDs and cervical cancer. How so? It analyzed data from 16 high-quality observational studies involving more than 12,000 women worldwide. Regarding women who used IUDs, the incidence of cervical cancer was a third lower. That is ~huge~.

"The IUD has been around a long time, but for many it's the 'new kid' on the block since women of all ages are now considered eligible to use it," Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women's health expert and author of she-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health, tells Bustle. "It's an effective, safe, and long-term contraception, which can also control irregular and heavy bleeding."

According to ScienceDaily, cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in women worldwide. Given that IUDs are one of the most popular and effective birth control methods women use — and the number one choice of OB/GYNs for birth control, according to a 2013 survey from Planned Parenthood — the fact that they could help reduce the likelihood of cervical cancer is very good news for women who use IUDs, or will in the future. And since the 2016 election, IUD demand has spiked 900 percent.

"The pattern we found was stunning. It was not subtle at all," said the study's lead author, Victoria Cortessis, PhD, associate professor of clinical preventive medicine at the Keck School. "The possibility that a woman could experience some help with cancer control at the same time she is making contraception decisions could potentially be very, very impactful."

How Do Women Get Cervical Cancer?

You may be wondering how women get cervical cancer in the first place. Human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, can cause cervical cancer. Most of the time, HPV infections go away on their own, but when they do not, they can lead to genital warts and various kinds of cancer, including but not limited to cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or throat — and, of course, the cervix. Plus, no one is immune to HPV — anyone who is sexually active can get it, even without having sexual intercourse per se; it can also be spread through close sexual contact.

How Is The IUD Reducing The Incidence Of Cervical Cancer?

How IUDs are reducing the chance of cervical cancer is the question. Cortessis said understanding this is the next step. ScienceDaily reports that some scientists say it may have to do with the placement of the IUD, and perhaps it stimulates an immune response in the cervix. Hence, the body would ward off a current HPV infection which could lead to cervical cancer. Or perhaps when the IUD is removed, some precancerous cervical cells or ones with HPV are removed.

"This new study allows us to now add another amazing benefit, which includes reducing the risk of cervical cancer," Dr. Ross says. "By stimulating an immune response in the cervix which fights against a current or new HPV infection, this ultimately reduces the risk of developing cancer of the cervix. This is yet another benefit to what may be considered the perfect birth control for women of all ages."

Dr. Michael Krychman, Executive Director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine and co-author of The Sexual Spark: 20 Essential Exercises to Reignite the Passion, agrees about the benefits of IUDs. "The long and short of it — IUDs are an excellent choice for safe, effective contraception, and we know that they have far-reaching implications on overall health and wellness," he tells Bustle. "Cervical cancer protection would be more icing on the cake of a great contraceptive choice."

Here's hoping that even more studies are done finding a correlation between IUD use and the incidence of cervical cancer decreasing. But the one by the Keck School of Medicine of USC has definitely been eye-opening and will likely lead to more and more research, which is a big win for women's health.

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