September 14, 2011 — Intrauterine devices might protect women from developing cervical cancer even though they do not protect against human papillomavirus, which causes most cervical cancer cases, according to a study published in the journal Lancet Oncology, Reuters reports. Researchers think the process of inserting or removing IUDs could destroy pre-cancerous cells, or the devices could cause inflammation that prevents HPV from progressing.
The study involved data on more than 20,000 women in multiple countries and found that those with a history of using IUDs had about half the risk of developing cervical cancer but were no less likely to contract HPV than women without the devices. The amount of time that a woman used an IUD did not affect her risk of cervical cancer. Researchers found that during the first year the risk was reduced by about 50% and that the protective effect remained even after a decade.
Reuters reports that it is not likely that IUDs would be recommended as a way to prevent cervical cancer, though the findings should reassure women and doctors that the devices do not raise the risk of the disease. Merck and GlaxoSmithKline produce vaccines that protect against HPV (Kelland, Reuters, 9/12).