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IUDs might carry a huge health benefit—and it has nothing to do with pregnancy


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Graphic by Abby Maker for Well+Good

When IUDs reemerged safer and more accessible after near-extinction in the 1980s, many women rejoiced in finally having a super effective birth control option that didn’t involve remembering to take a tiny pill every day. And now, we know that preventing pregnancy isn’t the only benefit: It could also decrease the risk of cervical cancer.

According to a new meta-analysis published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology of 16 previous studies including over 12,000 women from around the world, researchers found that cervical cancer is one third less frequent in women who have used IUDs.

“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.” —Victoria Cortessis, PhD

“The pattern we found was stunning. It was not subtle at all,” lead author Victoria Cortessis, PhD, says in a press release. “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.”

Although researchers know IUDs drop the risk of cervical cancer, they’re not 100 percent sure why—but they have some ideas. It could be because the placement of the IUD prompts an immune system response that helps the body fight off infections in the cervix that cause cancer, like HPV. Or, the removal of the IUD could also scrape off precancerous or HPV-infected cells. Either way, something promising is happening.

“The results of our study are very exciting. There is tremendous potential.” —Laila Muderspach, MD

“If we can demonstrate that the body mounts an immune response to having an IUD placed, for example, then we could begin investigating whether an IUD can clear a persistent HPV infection in a clinical trial,” says gynecologic oncologist and study co-author Laila Muderspach, MD, in the release. “The results of our study are very exciting. There is tremendous potential.”

Your gynecologist won’t be recommending an IUD for cervical cancer protection just yet, but considering the World Health Organization says cases are rising by the year, this could help change the tide. “IUDs could be a tool to combat this impending epidemic,” Dr. Cortessis says.

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