Does a high number of sexual partners increase the risk of cancer?

Without being able to establish a strict cause and effect link, an observational study has nevertheless highlighted a potential association between the number of sexual partners and the risk of cancer.

A team of researchers from Canada, Austria, Italy, the United Kingdom and Turkey studied data from theEnglish Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), a cohort composed of a representative sample of 2,537 men and 3,185 women over 50 years old and living in England. Their discoveries, published in the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, show a significant statistical association between the number of partners identified over the course of a lifetime and diagnoses of Cancer in men, as in women.

For this study, participants had to report the total number of their sexual partners (0-1; 2-4; 5-9 or 10 and more). They also assessed their condition health (and declared diseases) and specified their age, ethnicity, marital status and income. They indicated if they were smokers, if they had depressive symptoms and if they practiced sports activities.

Increased probability of serious illness beyond 10 partners

Among men who reported having 2 to 4 sexual partners, the number of cancer diagnoses was 57% higher than among those who reported 0 to 1 partner. The percentage rises to 69% among those who declared 10 or more partners.

In women who report having had 10 or more partners, the risk observed is 91% higher than in women who report having had 0 to 1 sexual partner. Among women, having a higher number of sexual partners is also linked to a greater chance of developing chronic disease affecting daily life. The same relationship was not observed in men.

For both sexes, the high number of partners is also associated with young age, single status, highest and lowest incomes, being a smoker, drinking frequently and intensive practice of sport. The researchers emphasize that this study is based on observations and that a strict cause and effect relationship cannot be established. They note, however, that their results are consistent with previous studies on the development of cancer and hepatitis and that the reasons why observations are different for men and women remain unclear.

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