A birth control method once frowned upon may play a significant role in helping women reduce their cervical cancer risk. NY1's Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
In a study of nearly 20,000 women on four continents, researchers found those who used the T-shaped contraceptive known as the intrauterine device or IUD, cut their cervical cancer risk in half.
The general thinking has been IUDs are only best for women in stable, monogamous relationships who aren't at risk of catching STDs from multiple partners. That's because the design can almost act as a wick when it comes to STDs, easily spreading them to the uterus and ovaries which can lead to serious infection. But the research seems to be saying IUD's are doing something different when it comes to HPV, the sexually transmitted virus that leads to most cervical cancer.
"The IUD is somehow is triggering the body's immune system really locally, at the level of the cervix. And it didn't keep women from getting HPV, they still got HPV at the same rates. But women who had an IUD were much less likely to have that HPV progress to cervical cancer," said Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Associate Attending Surgeon Dr. Carol Brown.
Researchers say it could be due to an immune response to the device over time, which can stay in the body up to 10 years, or it could boil down to just the physical act of placing the IUD.
"It is not necessarily the IUD itself but it is the change in the environment that the HPV is living in that may halt or retard the progression of the HPV to cervical cancer," said NYU Langone Medical Center Professor of OBGYN Dr. Steven R. Goldstein.
In practical terms not every woman is going to go out and get an IUD because of the study. But doctors say it still points out some key lessons in terms of women's health.
"If you are concerned about not developing cervical cancer just going out and getting an IUD is not the answer," said Goldstein. "You need to have safe sex, you need to have pap smears as indicated. But if a woman with a history of abnormal cervix changes is on the fence about what method of contraception to choose, perhaps a study like this may make her lean towards and IUD if she is an appropriate candidate."