Women who wish to prevent pregnancy now have a new option to consider: a small polymer rod implanted under the skin of the upper arm. The product, called Implanon, recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The Implanon rod releases a low, steady dose of etongestrel, a type of progestin. It is implanted by a doctor, and once implanted, it is effective for three years. If a woman wishes to go off birth control before the three years is up, the doctor can remove the implant at any time. Implanon is made by Organon USA, who says it’s 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. As with other non-barrier contraceptives, Implanon does not protect against sexually transmitted disease. Organon has not yet said how much Implanon will cost.

Implanon has been available in other countries since 1998. Side effects include irregular menstrual bleeding, headache, acne, and pain, swelling, and redness near the implant site. Women using Implanon or any other form of hormonal birth control are advised not to smoke. Hormonal birth control methods raise the risk of blood clots, and smoking further raises that risk.

Though Implanon is the only implantable birth control product currently on the market in the United States, it isn’t the first to have been approved. A six-rod product called Norplant was removed from the market in 2002, and a two-rod implant product called Jadelle was approved in 1996 but never marketed in the United States.

Physicians must receive special training to implant Implanon, and in a press release, Organon said it would begin training programs in August 2006. As more physicians receive the training, the method is expected to become more widely available.

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