More sexual partners, more cancer?

Two headlines caught my eye lately:

The connection between persistent illnesses and variety of sexual companions: an exploratory evaluation

and

Research warns extra intercourse would possibly imply increased probability for most cancers

It could be laborious to consider, however each of those consult with similar medical analysis. I’m undecided which one I like higher. The primary one is the precise title of the analysis, which gives no details about its findings. The second is a newspaper headline. It cuts proper to the chase concerning the examine’s important findings. Whereas it’s rather more particular — and alarming — it is usually deceptive.

Is there a hyperlink between the variety of sexual companions and most cancers?

The examine investigating this chance was revealed BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Well being. It enrolled about 2,500 males and three,200 girls who had been 50 or older (common age 64). Every particular person was surveyed concerning the whole variety of sexual companions they’d had over the course of their lives. This data was in contrast with quite a lot of medical situations they’d developed, together with most cancers, coronary heart illness, and stroke.

The examine demonstrated that

  • Males who reported 10 or extra sexual companions of their life had been almost 70% extra prone to have developed most cancers when put next with these reporting 0 or 1 lifetime sexual companions.
  • For ladies, the findings had been much more dramatic: girls who reported 10 or extra sexual companions of their life had been almost 91% extra prone to have developed most cancers when put next with these reporting 0 or 1 lifetime sexual companions.

Males had been extra seemingly than girls to report having at the least 10 companions (22% of males vs. 8% of girls) whereas girls had been extra prone to have fewer companions (41% of girls and 28.5% of males reporting having had 0 to 1 companions).

It’s value noting this examine was carried out in England with well being data initially collected within the late Nineties. The outcomes may have been completely different if researchers had assessed danger of a unique inhabitants or at a unique cut-off date. As well as, self-reporting was relied upon to evaluate sexual habits, and it’s attainable the reported variety of sexual companions and different well being behaviors weren’t correct.

Does this imply having intercourse results in most cancers?

The reply is sort of absolutely no.

That’s as a result of the sort of examine can’t assess whether or not intercourse causes most cancers. It may possibly solely decide whether or not there’s a correlation between the 2. Additionally, we already know of ways in which sexual habits can not directly have an effect on most cancers danger with out truly inflicting most cancers, particularly by sexually transmitted infections. Among the strongest connections are for:

  • human papilloma virus (HPV), which will increase the chance of cancers of the cervix, mouth, penis, and anus
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) an infection, which will increase the chance of cancers similar to Kaposi’s sarcoma and lymphoma
  • hepatitis B and hepatitis C an infection, which have been linked to liver most cancers
  • gonorrhea, which will increase the chance of prostate most cancers (significantly amongst African American males).

As well as, folks with extra sexual companions tended to smoke extra and drink extra alcohol. These components may, themselves, enhance the chance of most cancers. So, sure components — in these instances, infections, smoking, and ingesting — may have an effect on most cancers danger, quite than having intercourse or the variety of sexual companions.

Whereas future analysis may discover beforehand unidentified dangers in having a better variety of sexual companions, we already know sufficient to elucidate the connection.

The underside line

Whereas it could be tempting to conclude from this new analysis that limiting the variety of sexual companions you might have will decrease your danger of most cancers, I feel that may be a misinterpretation of the info. The higher take-home message can be to take precautions to keep away from sexually transmitted illnesses and pursue different confirmed methods to decrease your most cancers danger, together with stopping smoking and limiting alcohol.

Observe me on Twitter @RobShmerling

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