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IUDs May Help Treat Endometrial Cancer

Study Shows Intrauterine Device May Treat Women Who Want to Avoid Hysterectomy
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 28, 2010 -- Intrauterine devices (IUDs) -- used to prevent pregnancy -- may also be an effective treatment for some patients with early-stage uterine cancer who want to preserve their fertility.

In a small, early study, carefully selected patients with cancer that had not spread beyond the inner lining of the uterus were treated with IUDs that released the hormone progesterone.

The treatment was found to be as effective as oral hormone therapy, which is the most widely used nonsurgical, fertility-sparing treatment for the cancer.

“Our results show promise for the treatment of younger endometrial cancer patients with early disease who desire pregnancy in the future,” gynecologic oncologist Lucas Minig tells WebMD. “But patients must be screened very carefully to make sure their disease has not spread.”

Treatment for Endometrial Cancer

Close to 300,000 new cases of endometrial cancer are diagnosed worldwide annually, and roughly 75,000 women die of the disease.

Surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries is a standard, and highly effective, treatment for early-stage disease.

While most patients are diagnosed later in life, up to 5% of cases occur in women who are still in their 20s and 30s.

Oral treatment with the synthetic progesterone is an accepted alternative to hysterectomy in carefully screened younger women with early endometrial cancer.

The treatment slows tumor growth but is not well tolerated by some women.

Testing IUDs to Treat Cancer

In the newly published study, Minig and colleagues from the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy, used a commercially available progesterone-releasing IUD to treat patients with early-stage endometrial cancer and women at high risk for developing the disease.

The Italian study included 34 patients between the ages of 20 and 40 treated between 1996 and 2009. Twenty of the women did not yet have endometrial cancer, but had a precursor condition known as atypical endometrial hyperplasia (AEH). Fourteen had early-stage cancer that had not spread beyond the inner lining of the uterus.

Treatment involved implantation of the IUD containing the progesterone-hormone levonorgestrel for one year, combined with monthly injections of the hormone GnRH for six months. GnRH was given to stop the body from producing estrogen, which fuels tumor growth.

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