The delivery of combination contraceptive steroids from a transdermal contraceptive patch or a contraceptive vaginal ring offers potential advantages over the traditional oral route. The transdermal patch and vaginal ring could require a lower dose due to increased bioavailability and improved user compliance.
To compare the contraceptive effectiveness, cycle control, compliance (adherence), and safety of the contraceptive patch or the vaginal ring versus combination oral contraceptives (COCs).
Through February 2013, we searched MEDLINE, POPLINE, CENTRAL, LILACS, ClinicalTrials.gov, and ICTRP for trials of the contraceptive patch or the vaginal ring. Earlier searches also included EMBASE. For the initial review, we contacted known researchers and manufacturers to identify other trials.
We considered randomized controlled trials comparing a transdermal contraceptive patch or a contraceptive vaginal ring with a COC.
Data collection and analysis
Data were abstracted by two authors and entered into RevMan. For dichotomous variables, the Peto odds ratio (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) was calculated. For continuous variables, the mean difference was computed. We also assessed the quality of evidence for this review.
We found 18 trials that met our inclusion criteria. Of six patch studies, five examined the marketed patch containing norelgestromin plus ethinyl estradiol (EE); one studied a patch in development that contains levonorgestrel (LNG) plus EE. Of 12 vaginal ring trials, 11 examined the same marketing ring containing etonogestrel plus EE; one studied a ring being developed that contains nesterone plus EE.
Contraceptive effectiveness was not significantly different for the patch or ring versus the comparison COC. Compliance data were limited. Patch users showed better compliance than COC users in three trials. For the norelgestromin plus EE patch, ORs were 2.05 (95% CI 1.83 to 2.29) and 2.76 (95% CI 2.35 to 3.24). In the levonorgestrel plus EE patch report, patch users were less likely to have missed days of therapy (OR 0.36; 95% CI 0.25 to 0.51). Of four vaginal ring trials, one found ring users had more noncompliance (OR 3.99; 95% CI 1.87 to 8.52), while another showed more compliance with the regimen (OR 1.67; 95% CI 1.04 to 2.68).
More patch users discontinued early than COC users. ORs from two meta-analyses were 1.59 (95% CI 1.26 to 2.00) and 1.56 (95% CI 1.18 to 2.06) and another trial showed OR 2.57 (95% CI 0.99 to 6.64). Patch users also had more discontinuation due to adverse events than COC users. Users of the norelgestromin-containing patch reported more breast discomfort, dysmenorrhea, nausea, and vomiting. In the levonorgestrel-containing patch trial, patch users reported less vomiting, headaches, and fatigue.
Of 11 ring trials with discontinuation data, two showed the ring group discontinued less than the COC group: OR 0.32 (95% CI 0.16 to 0.66) and OR 0.52 (95% CI 0.31 to 0.88). Ring users were less likely to discontinue due to adverse events in one study (OR 0.32; 95% CI 0.15 to 0.70). Compared to the COC users, ring users had more vaginitis and leukorrhea but less vaginal dryness. Ring users also reported less nausea, acne, irritability, depression, and emotional lability than COC users.
For cycle control, only one trial study showed a significant difference. Women in the patch group were less likely to have breakthrough bleeding and spotting. Seven ring studies had bleeding data; four trials showed the ring group generally had better cycle control than the COC group.
Effectiveness was not significantly different for the methods compared. Pregnancy data were available from half of the patch trials but two-thirds of ring trials. The patch could lead to more discontinuation than the COC. The patch group had better compliance than the COC group. Compliance data came from half of the patch studies and one-third of the ring trials. Patch users had more side effects than the COC group. Ring users generally had fewer adverse events than COC users but more vaginal irritation and discharge.
The quality of the evidence for this review was considered low for the patch and moderate for the ring. The main reasons for downgrading were lack of information on the randomization sequence generation or allocation concealment, the outcome assessment methods, high losses to follow up, and exclusions after randomization.