Old delivery device gets a new lease of life

Hormone-releasing intrauterine devices (IUDs) have been around for a decade or more as contraceptives, but a study from the Georgia Health Sciences University Cancer Center has suggested a new use, as a treatment for a type of endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the womb). The results were presented at the International Gynecological Cancer Society's 14th biennial meeting.

Eight women with early-stage endometrioid adenocarcinoma, a common subtype of endometrial cancer, and 7 women with with atypical endometrial hyperplasia, a thickening of lining of the womb that can lead to cancer, were fitted with an intrauterine device that delivers levonorgestrel, a form of synthetic progestogen. All of the women were high-risk for surgery for a number of reasons, including morbid obesity.

"Total hysterectomy, sometimes with removal of lymph nodes, is the most common treatment for this type of cancer. But women who are morbidly obese or who have cardiac risk factors are not good candidates for surgery," said Sharad Ghamande of the Medical College of Georgia and principal investigator on the study.

The women were tracked for two years. Over this time, the thickness of the lining of the womb (known as the endometrial stripe) gradually thinned, and the abnormal cell growth was reversed in all patients.

This could be a cost-effective way of treating this form of cancer, which is the most common gynecological cancer, especially in women who are not able to undergo surgery. As surgery can also lead to complications in otherwise healthy women, it could potentially be extended to a wider group.

- read the press release
- see the abstract