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Rise in cancers linked to sexually-transmitted virus

Wednesday February 4th, 2009

Cancers linked to a sexually-transmitted virus have increased in the post-war generations, a new study shows today.

A team led by Dr David Robinson of Kings College London, UK, examined figures from the Thames Cancer Registry, covering people born since the 1940s. They looked for trends in cancers linked to the human papilloma virus, or HPV. These include cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, cervix and penis.

HPV is a very common sexually-transmitted infection which may trigger cancerous changes after persistent, repeated infections. Analysis showed that cases of all the associated cancers have risen, except penile and cervical cancer.

Women born in the 1960s experienced a marked rise in cases of anal cancer compared with those born in the first half of the 1940s. Cervical cancer rates are thought to have fallen due to early diagnosis made possible by the NHS screening programme.

The experts suggest that the most likely cause is "changes in sexual practice" leading to greater HPV exposure. They predict that rates will fall in future generations as HPV vaccines become more widely used.

"These results have revealed a snapshot of just how much rates of these cancers have increased in the post war generations," said Dr Robinson. "For anal cancer, rates are now higher in women than in men.

"However, programmes of vaccination against HPV, whilst aimed primarily at reducing the burden of cervical cancer, may also help to reduce the incidence of cancers at these other sites."

Dr Lesley Walker of Cancer Research UK added: "Using a condom will lower the risk of exposure to the virus."

Full results appear in the British Journal of Cancer.

Robinson, D. et al. British Journal of Cancer, February 4, 2009.

Tags: Cancer | Flu & Viruses | UK News

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