Having an intrauterine device (IUD) fitted for contraception could have the added benefit of lowering your cervical cancer risk, new research suggests.
The large-scale study, published in the journal ‘Obstetrics and Gynecology’, analysed the cervical cancer rates of more than 12,000 women around the world.
It found that women who’d been fitted with an IUD were 36% less likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer compared to those who had not.
According to Cancer Research UK, more than 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK each year.
An IUD, sometimes called a coil, is a small t-shaped device inserted into the womb that prevents pregnancy by stopping the sperm and egg from surviving in the womb or fallopian tubes.
The researchers analysed patient data from 16 previous studies on cervical cancer in order to draw their conclusions.
They noted that it is unclear why IUDs may be associated with lower cervical cancer rates.
“At this point we can only hypothesise about how an IUD might decrease cervical cancer risk,” lead study author Victoria Cortessis, of the University of Southern California, told Reuters.
She said IUDs might help the body fight human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer, by triggering an immune response.
The doctors believe this immune response could occur due to the fact that cervical tissue may be irritated during the insertion of the device.
However, more research is needed to determine the true cause of the possible link.
The researchers acknowledged that there were some limitations to their study: primarily the fact that some data was taken before the HPV vaccine became available.
The vaccine was first rolled out in the UK in 2008 and is now free on the NHS to girls from the age of 12 up to their 18th birthday. It is routinely offered to girls when they are in year eight at school, although older women can pay to have it privately.
Because of this, the findings may be more relevant to women over the age of 30 than younger women, as they are less likely to have had the vaccine.
The researchers stressed that having an IUD fitted is not a guarantee against cervical cancer and more research is needed in this area.