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Studies Say Spermicides Don’t Cause Birth Defects

August 19, 1987

BOSTON (AP) _ Two new studies have turned up no evidence that spermicides cause birth defects, and researchers say the findings should relieve lingering doubts about the safety of this form of birth control.

The researchers said the results are important because many women are concerned about the potential hazards of spermicides. However, because intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are largely unavailable, they have few other birth control options to pick from.

The new research looked for links between spermicides and five different categories of birth defect. They found no sign that spermicides could cause any of these problems.

″To the extent that anything can put to rest a concern, I think our two studies, together with previous studies, provide very strong support for the safety of spermicides,″ said Dr. Allen A. Mitchell of the Sloan Epidemiology Unit of Boston University Medical School.

Some earlier research had suggested that women have an increased risk of producing defective babies if they use spermicidal foams and jellies around the time of conception or during pregnancy.

One of those studies, published six years ago, linked spermicides with double the usual risk of Down’s syndrome, genital malformations, abnormally short limbs and tumors. Another suggested that spermicides are associated with spina bifida, a spinal defect.

The two reports refuting these findings were published in Thursday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the Boston University study, Mitchell and colleagues questioned 1,138 mothers about their birth control methods. All of them had given birth to babies with one of the five defects.

Their use of spermicide was compared with that of 3,442 other women who had delivered babies with a variety of other birth defects. The researchers used mothers of deformed babies as a comparison group, because they are more likely than mothers of healthy children to remember drugs they used during pregnancy.

There was virtually no difference between the two groups of women in their use of spermicides.

In the other study, Dr. Dorothy Warburton and others from Columbia University looked specifically at whether spermicides could be linked with Down’s syndrome and other birth defects that occur when babies have an extra packet of genetic material called a chromosome.

The researchers surveyed 13,729 women who were undergoing amniocentesis, a pre-natal test often given to older women to check for Down’s syndrome. They answered questions about their birth control methods before anyone knew the results of their tests.

Like the other research, this work found no increased risk of defects among women who used spermicides during or before their pregnancies.

″From our research, it’s quite clear that there is no increased risk from spermicides of a chromosomal anomaly of the type that would cause Down’s syndrome,″ said Warburton. ″This is reassuring. It just reaffirms the previous studies that all suggest the same thing.″

Since publication of the reports casting doubt on spermicides, three other major studies have been released showing no increase in the overall rate of birth defects. These studies were based on information from a total of 97,000 women.

Last year, the Supreme Court let stand a $4.7 million award won against Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. An Atlanta woman claimed that her daughter suffered a variety of birth defects that were caused by the spermicide Ortho-Gynol.

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