It has long since been considered a safe and highly effective contraception method, but now scientists believe the coil has caused a "dramatic decrease" of cervical cancer.
More research is needed to understand the mechanism at play.
The research team said that another possibility is that when an IUD is removed, some cervical cells that contain HPV infection or precancerous changes may be scraped off.
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Cortessis and fellow researchers reviewed data from 16 observational studies monitoring more than 12,000 women, identifying both participants' use of IUDs and their incidence of cervical cancer, which is the fourth-most common cancer in women worldwide.
She said that it could be that these IUDs trigger an immune response that ends up strengthening the body to fight a viral infection caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Overall, they found women who used an IUD were 36% less likely to get cervical cancer than women who didn't use them. In all of those a total of 4,945 women with cervical cancer were included and in all those studies there were 7,537 women who did not have the cancer.
"IUD in the uterus stimulates an immune response, and that immune response very, very substantially destroys sperm and keeps sperm from reaching the egg", Cortessis said. "It stands to reason the IUD might influence other immune phenomenon". Cervical cancer is usually a slow developing type of cancer which may or may not exhibit symptoms of the disease.
Back then, IUDs were not recommended for use in women with two major risk factors for cervical cancer - multiple sexual partners and a history of sexually transmitted infections, Lichtenfeld explained. Keck School faculty also conduct research and teach at several research centers and institutes, including the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine at USC, USC Cardiovascular Thoracic Institute, USC Institute of Urology, USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute, USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, USC Roski Eye Institute and Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute.
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Confounding variables - or factors that the researcher can't control for - have always been a worry in research on IUDs and cervical cancer, Franco told Live Science.
Cortessis agreed that confounding variables are a limitation of the meta-analysis.
However, researchers aren't really aware of how an IUD can function.
"The vaccines don't work unless the woman is vaccinated before she's ever exposed to the virus", Cortessis said. HPV vaccine is known to protect against cervical cancer.
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For the sake of these women, Cortessis said she's hopeful that clinical studies will confirm her analysis. The two world-class, USC-owned hospitals are staffed by more than 500 physicians who are faculty at the Keck School. "Rates are going to explode in the next few decades if we don't find something very, very impactful to do to help young ladies".