Having 10+ lifetime sexual partners linked to higher cancer risk

In a new study, researchers found that a history of 10 or more lifetime sexual partners is linked to a heightened risk of being diagnosed with cancer.

And among women, a higher number of sexual partners is also linked to heightened odds of reporting a chronic health condition.

The research was conducted by a team at Medical University Vienna.

Few studies have looked at the potential impact of the number of sexual partners on wider health outcomes.

To try and plug this knowledge gap, the researchers drew on information gathered for the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), a nationally representative tracking study of older adults (50+) living in England.

In 2012-13, participants were asked how many sexual partners they had had.

Complete data were provided by 5722 of the 7079 people who responded to this question: 2537 men and 3185 women.

Participants were also asked to rate their own health and report any long-standing condition or infirmity which impinged on routine activity in any way.

The average age of participants was 64, and almost three out of four were married.

Some 28.5% of men said they had had 0-1 sexual partners to date; 29% said they had had 2-4; one in five (20%) reported 5-9; while 22% reported 10 or more.

The equivalent figures for women were: just under 41%; 35.5%; just under 16%; and just under 8%.

The team found in both sexes, a higher number of sexual partners were linked to a younger age, single status, and being in the highest or lowest brackets of household wealth.

Those who reported a higher tally of sexual partners were also more likely to smoke, drink frequently and do more vigorous physical activity on a weekly basis.

The team found a strong association between the number of lifetime sexual partners and the risk of cancer diagnosis among both sexes.

Compared with women who reported 0-1 sexual partners, those who said they had had 10 or more, were 91% more likely to have been diagnosed with cancer.

Among the men, those who reported 2-4 lifetime sexual partners were 57% more likely to have been diagnosed with cancer than were those who reported 0-1.

And those who reported 10 or more, were 69% more likely to have been diagnosed with the disease.

While the number of sexual partners was not linked to reported long-standing conditions among the men, it was among the women.

Women who reported 5-9 or 10+ lifetime sexual partners were 64% more likely to have a limiting chronic condition than those who said they had had 0-1.

The team says the heightened risk of cancer might be driven by those types known to be associated with sexually transmitted infections.

And they suggest that enquiring about the number of sexual partners might complement existing cancer screening programs by helping to identify those at risk if further research can establish a causal association between the number of sexual partners and subsequent ill-health.

The lead author of the study is Igor Grabovac.

The study is published in BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health.

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