Evidence for Practice: Oral Contraception and Risk of Cervical Cancer

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PurposeThe issue of continued oral contraceptive use among women with abnormal Pap smears may be controversial due to reported evidence of an increased risk of cervical cancer among long term oral contraceptive users. This article reviews the evidence concerning oral contraception and cervical cancer risk. The role of Human Papilloma virus (HPV)and proposed mechanisms for the development of cervical cancer are explained.Evidence from World Health Organization (WHO) studies and additional research evidence are discussed.Implications for clinical practice are included.Data SourcesWHO commissioned studies, additional relevant studies searchable from an EBSCO database, and texts that describe the natural history of HPV.ConclusionsEpidemiological studies and biomedical research suggest a role for steroid hormones, such as oral contraceptives, in facilitating the action of HPV. However, a majority of HPV infections resolve spontaneously, despite widespread use of oral contraception. Oral contraception does not appear to increase incident HPV infection or persistence of HPV infection. The benefits of oral contraceptives appear to outweigh the risks associated with HPV facilitation.Implications for PracticeNPs inform patients of abnormal Pap smears, manage the clinical care of women at risk of cervical cancer, and provide educational counseling regarding contraceptive choices. Ethical considerations include clear disclosure of potential risk. However, a risk-benefit analysis supports continued use of oral contraception among women who have abnormal Pap smears but also have access to clinical surveillance.

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