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The BBC's Graham Satchell
"Britain is in the throes of a Chlamydia epidemic"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 14:51 GMT
Chlamydia 'linked to cervical cancer'
Lab worker
Tests show alarming levels of chlamydia
A bacterium which causes a common sexually transmitted disease has been linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer.

Chlamydia trachomatis is the cause of more sexually transmitted diseases in the UK than any other organism.

Using a condom, particularly with a new or casual sexual partner, is very important

Public Health Laboratory Service
In 1999 there were 24,311 known new infections in men and 32,544 in women.

However, in many cases the bacterium does not cause any symptoms, and so the actual number of people infected is likely to be up to 90% higher.

If untreated, Chlamydia can lead to sterility in women.

Now Finnish scientists have produced evidence that it might also trigger cervical cancer.

G strain

They found that women infected with a strain of the bacterium, known as serotype G, are nearly seven times more likely to develop cervical cancer.

Two other strains increased the risk of the disease by nearly four-fold and three-fold.

Women infected with more than one strain of Chlamydia were at an even higher risk.

The researchers were led by Dr Tarja Anttila from the National Public Health Institute in Oulu, Finland, and Dr Jorma Paavonen, from the University of Helsinki.

They analysed the results of blood tests taken from 530,000 women in Finland, Norway and Sweden.

They then focused on 128 women who developed severe cervical cancer at least 12 months after donating a sample.

It has long been known that cervical cancer is linked to sexually transmitted infection.

The primary agent involved is thought to be the human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes genital warts.

But the new findings suggest that Chlamydia also plays a significant role.

Britain, in common with other western countries, is undergoing a Chlamydia epidemic.

Infection rate soars

According to the Public Health Laboratory Service, the number of diagnosed infections has soared by 76% since 1995.

There was a 14% increase in infections between 1998 and 1999.

Infection rates in 1999 were highest in London, where they reached 155 per 100,000 men and 184 per 100,000 women. But doctors believe the number of known infections represent only about 10% of all cases.

For women, the long-term effects of Chlamydia infection can be severe, including pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at the Cancer Research Campaign, said: "Most current studies tend to suggest that sexually transmitted infections other than HPV are not linked with cervical cancer

"This report may mean that we need to revisit this area, and look very carefully to see if on-going Chlamydia infection has any influence on an individual's ability to fight off HPV infection."

A spokesman for the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) said: "It is very important that people understand that Chlamydia is associated with all sorts of long term side effects.

"That is why using a condom, particularly with a new or casual sexual partner, is very important."

Mike Catchpole, an expert in sexually transmitted diseases from the PHLS, said the findings strengthened the case for widespread screening for Chlamydia infection.

At present, only those patients who attend STD clinics are screened. However, the Department of Health is currently undertaking a pilot project offering screening to all patients who attend a GP surgery.

The research is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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