The risk of cancer ‘increases with the increasing number of sexual partners’

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The more sexual partners a person has had during their lifetime, the greater the risk of a cancer diagnosis, possibly due to a higher probability of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), researchers from the United Kingdom discovered.

They analyzed data from more than 5700 men and women who participated in a longitudinal study on aging in which they were asked about their number of sexual partners during their lifetime.

The results indicated that, among men, having 10 or more sexual partners for life increased the risk of a cancer diagnosis by 69% compared to having one or no sexual partners. In women, the risk increased by 91%.

Sexual questions

The research, which was published by BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health On February 13, he also revealed that women who reported five or more sexual partners were 64% more likely to have a life-limiting chronic disease.

The authors suggest that “asking about the number of sexual partners a patient has had can be a simple and cost effective complement to existing cancer screening programs to identify those at risk for certain types of cancer.”

However, they add that “first more work is required to replicate our findings and establish if there is a causal relationship.”

They also stress that, due to the nature of the study, “it is possible that the association between the number of sexual partners and cancer is a casual finding.”

However, the team suggests that the number of sexual partners of an individual “captures a combination of probability of exposure to STIs and lifestyle profile.”

Gender differences

The study’s co-author, Dr. Lee Smith, of the Cambridge Center for Sports and Exercise Sciences, University of Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge, said the possible link to the history of STIs could explain the strongest relationship between the number of sexual partners and the risk of cancer in women than in men. .

He said Medscape News UK that “we know that there is a strong link between the human papillomavirus [HPV] and cervical cancer, “while the link between HPV and, for example, penile cancer is not as strong.

Dr. Smith also stressed that, although it could be that people with “a greater number of sexual partners generally lead unhealthy lifestyles or participate in other types of risky behaviors that could be associated with cancers in adulthood,” They controlled factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption in their analysis.

He stressed that the results suggest that people “of course should have safe and secure sex”, but “if they have had unprotected sex in the past or a risky sexual encounter, they should inform their health care provider.”

Specific cancers

The researchers point out that STIs are associated with an increased risk of cancer, and HPV is related not only to the vast majority of cervical cancer cases, but also to mouth, penis and anus cancer.

In addition, gonorrhea infection is associated with the risk of prostate cancer in black men, and both hepatitis B and C are associated with an increased risk of developing liver cancer.

Therefore, the researchers suggest that it is “plausible” that the higher the number of sexual partners for life, the greater the risk of contracting STIs and, subsequently, subsequent health complications.

They add that, “since STIs are often not diagnosed,” the number of sexual partners of an individual throughout life could be an indicator of sexual risk behavior.

Survey Data

To further investigate, the team examined cross-sectional data from the English Longitudinal Study on Aging, which included men and women 50 years or older who responded to the England Health Survey.

The analysis focused on the sixth wave of the study, conducted in 2012/13, as it was the first in which participants were asked about their number of sexual partners, through the Questionnaire on Sexual Relations and Activities (SRA-Q ).

They included 2537 men and 3185 women in the sample. They had a mean age of 64.3 years and 65.3 years, respectively, and 93.7% of the men and 96.0% of the women were white.

The majority of men (73.6%) and women (60.6%) were married or cohabiting.

The vast majority of men (85.5%) and women (86.9%) were not smokers, and 84.0% and 69.9% drank alcohol regularly or frequently. 80.2% of men and 74.8% of women performed a moderate or vigorous activity at least once a week.

As few participants reported having zero or 20 or more partners in the SRA-Q, the team combined those with the proximal categories, finding that, among men, 28.5% reported having 0–1 sex partners for life, 29% 2 –4 couples, 20.2% 5–9 couples, and 22.2% ≥10 couples.

Among women, 40.8% reported having 0–1 sex partners for life, 35.5% 2– 4 couples, 15.8% 5–9 couples and 7.8% ≥10 couples.

A greater number of sexual partners for life was associated in both men and women with younger age, single and in the highest or lowest wealth quintile.

In addition, respondents with a greater number of sexual partners were more likely to report smoking, consume alcohol frequently and perform weekly physical activity.

Study findings

Using the logistic regression analysis taking into account these factors, as well as ethnicity and depressive symptoms, the team discovered that there was an association between the number of sexual partners for life and a diagnosis of cancer.

Compared to having had 0–1 sexual partners, 10 or more sexual partners were associated with a cancer diagnosis odds ratio of 1.69 in men (p = 0.047) and 1.91 in women (p = 0.038).

Although there were differences in the rates of cancer diagnoses between those who reported 0–1 sexual partners and those who reported 2–4 and 5–9 couples, they did not reach statistical significance.

There was, in women, a significant association between the number of sexual partners and the risk of a long-term life-limiting illness.

Compared to women who had 0–1 sex partners, those who reported 5–9 sex partners for life had a odds ratio of a long-standing disease of 1.64 (p = 0.003). In women who reported at least 10 couples, the odds ratio was the same, in 1.64 (p = 0.007).

There was no association between the number of sexual partners for life and self-assessed health, the risk of coronary heart disease or the risk of stroke in men or women.

No funds or conflicts of interest are declared.

BMJ Sex Reprod Health 2020; 0: 1–8. doi: 10.1136 / bmjsrh-2019-200352

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