Sex does not cause cancer, but your sex-centric lifestyle might.
And that’s especially true for women. According to a new study, those who had 10 or more sexual partners during their lifetime were more 91 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than women with one or zero partners.
Men were not entirely spared, either. Their cancer risk rose to 64 percent after 10 or more partners, compared to those with one or none.
“Previous research has shown that specific STIs (sexually transmitted infections) may lead to several cancers,” said study co-author Lee Smith, whose research was published in BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health on Thursday.
“It is interesting the risk is higher in women when compared to men,” Smith told Reuters in an email. “This may be because the link between certain STIs and cancer is stronger in women.”
During the study, subjects were asked to report the number of sexual partners they’d had during their lifetime.
Men were almost three times more likely to have had 10 or more sexual partners, at a rate of 22 percent, whereas just 8 percent of women fell into the same category.
The number of different partners among women, by contrast, fell significantly compared to men. Among women, only 16 percent had been with five to nine partners.
Women with 10 or more partners were also 64 percent more likely to report a long-standing illness compared to their more chaste counterparts.
Generally, scientists found that those on the younger end of the survey age range were more likely to report more sexual partners. Notably, their lifestyle also tended to include more drinking and smoking, as well as more vigorous workouts. Income also appeared to be a factor: Those who fell on the high or low end of the wealth spectrum had more sexual partners than those whose incomes fell in the middle.
Researchers pulled data from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, which surveys adults aged 50 and older. This study analyzed responses from 2,537 men and 3,185 women, whose average age was 64.
The increased likelihood of cancer may have more to do with lifestyle choices, and not brought on by the sex itself, Dr. Robert Edwards, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told Reuters.
He also warned that “smoking and alcohol consumption amplify the risk for cancer with certain sexually transmitted diseases.”
“People who had risky sexual encounters should contact their health-care providers to get checked for potential sexually transmitted infections and should discuss openly how to minimize this risk with their health-care providers,” Smith advised. “Using appropriate protection will reduce the risk of related cancers going forward.”
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