Keck study finds that IUDs may prevent cervical cancer


In 2012, 270,000 women died from cervical cancer, according to the World Health Organization. Photo courtesy of USC News.

Intrauterine devices, also known as IUDs, have become an increasingly popular form of birth control for women, with a 99.9 percent effectiveness rate, according to Planned Parenthood. But according to a new study released by the Keck School of Medicine of USC, they can serve another purpose — offering protections against cervical cancer.

The study, a systematic review and meta-analysis, was published in Obstetrics and Gynecology on Nov. 7 and authored by various professionals, including Victoria K. Cortessis, an associate professor of clinical preventative medicine at Keck.

The 16 studies included in the meta-analysis observed over 12,000 women from around the world. The study concluded that women who use an IUD have their chances of developing cervical cancer lowered by a third.

“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,” Cortessis told USC News.

Data released by athenahealth, a healthcare record-providing company, revealed a 19 percent rise in IUD-related doctor’s office visits by women since 2016. Audrey Chu, a junior studying international relations and the global economy, had her first experience with an IUD when she was 21.

“I was personally pretty good about taking the pill at the same time every day, but it was weird when I was taking antidepressants,” Chu told USC News. “I wanted a low-hormone or hormone-free option.”

According to the American Cancer Society, the rate of women contracting cervical cancer has already decreased by over 50 percent in the last 40 years, due to early detection using the Pap test. If detected in its early stages, cervical cancer can usually be cured, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV, but can be prevented with vaccines.

The World Health Organization found that in 2012, of the approximately 270,000 women who died from cervical cancer, 85 percent were from developing countries. As of 2016, 65 countries had approved HPV vaccines, but preventative vaccinations and tests are still less accessible in African and Asian countries.

A contraceptive that also prevents cervical cancer may be useful in less developed countries, according to Cortessis.

“A staggering number of women in the developing world are on the verge of entering the age range where the risk for cervical cancer is the highest — the 30s to the 60s,” Cortessis told USC News. “Even if the rate of cervical cancer remains steady, the actual number of women with cervical cancer is poised to explode.”

It remains unclear how exactly IUDs protect against cervical cancer. It is possible that the placement of an IUD may trigger a protective reaction in the cervix, which can fight off dormant HPV infections. HPV-infected cervical cells may also be scraped off during the removal of an IUD.

Laila Muderspach, another author of the study and the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Keck, said that if scientists can demonstrate that the body mounts an immune response to having an IUD placed, for example, then they could investigate whether an IUD can clear an HPV infection in a clinical trial.

The Engemann Student Health Center provides several sexual and reproductive health services, including Pap smears and screenings for sexually transmitted infections.