Having more than 10 sexual partners linked to increased risk of cancer, finds study

Sophie Gallagher
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Having 10 or more sexual partners in a lifetime is linked to an increased chance of cancer, according to new research.

The researchers found a statistically significant association between the number of sexual partners and the risk of a cancer diagnosis among men and women.

The study, a joint project between Anglia Ruskin University and experts in Austria, Turkey, Canada and Italy, was based on data from 5,722 participants aged 50 and over in England.

Compared with women who reported no sexual partner or just one, those who said they had had 10 or more were 91 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer.

Men who reported two to four lifetime sexual partners were 57 per cent more likely to have been diagnosed with cancer than were those who reported none or one.

Those men who reported 10 or more partners were 69 per cent more likely to have been diagnosed with the disease.

A fifth of men and just under eight per cent of women reported 10 or more sexual partners.

The study did not give a reason for the association between sexual activity and cancer, but refers to previous studies linking sexually transmitted infections and HPV (human papillomavirus) to cancer.

Rebecca Shoosmith, head of support services at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, previously told The Independent: "The majority of people are likely to contract HPV in their lifetime if they are sexually active regardless of gender." HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer.

The small number of cancer diagnoses in the participants meant the researchers were not able to analyse the results broken down by cancer type.

Research was based on data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) where participants were asked how many sexual partners they had had and were asked to rate their health.

The average age of participants was 64, and almost three-quarters were married.

Those who had more sexual partners were younger, more likely to smoke, drink frequently, and do more vigorous physical activity each week, the researchers said.

The study, published in BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, also found that women who reported more than five lifetime sexual partners were 64 per cent more likely to have a limiting chronic condition than those who said they had had none or one.

However, the researchers did not find any association in men.

The authors said: “The finding that the number of lifetime sexual partners is associated with limiting long-standing illness in women and not men should be noted.

“This gender difference is interesting, but an explanation is elusive, especially when men have a greater number of lifetime sexual partners than women, as shown in this study, and women are more likely to seek medical screening for STIs and are thus less likely to experience negative long-term health complications.”

Authors suggest that the research could inform questionnaires for people going for cancer screening programmes.

The team says further research is required to identify why this differs between men and women.