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Last Updated: Friday, 18 November 2005, 00:07 GMT
Cervical cancer risk 'lingers'
Cervical smear
Smear tests are still recommended to detect early signs of cancer
Women who have had cervical cancer treatment remain at increased risk of the disease - and other types of tumour, a study suggests.

Finnish researchers followed 7,500 women for up to 20 years.

The British Medical Journal study found higher rates of cancers linked to the HPV virus, including cervical cancer - and smoking-related cancers.

They suggested women and doctors should be aware of these added risks, and stressed the importance of smear tests.

The human papilloma viruses (HPVs) are a group of more than 70 different types of virus.

This is about way of life, and certain risk factors women have
Dr Ikka Kalliala, Helsinki University General Hospital

Cervical cancer is one of the major causes of death from cancer for women worldwide.

In the UK, about 3,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.

However, there is usually a period before cancer develops when cells lining the cervix develop abnormal changes, which can be detected.

These cells can be removed using a treatment to remove pre-cancerous lesions, a condition called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN).

Mild cases 'at more risk'

The Finnish researchers studied women who had all had CIN between 1974 and 2001, and followed them up through the Finnish cancer registry for an average of 11 years, and at least two.

Over the period, the researchers identified 448 new cases of cancer among the women, 96 more than would have been expected by looking at average rates among the female population.

[Women] should be encouraged to have annual smears for the next 20 years, whatever their age
Pat Soutter, Hammersmith Hospital cervical cancer specialist

Of those new cases, 22 had developed invasive cervical cancer, eight more than would have been expected.

There are three types of CIN - mild, moderate and severe.

The risk of cervical cancer was higher for women treated for the mild or moderate types.

The researchers say this may be because people with less serious lesions tended to have less regular follow-up checks than those who had experienced the more severe form.

In addition, the researchers saw 85 cases of lung, or other smoking-related cancers - 41 more than normal.

There were also 14 cases of vulva, vaginal or anal cancers - all of which are linked to the HPV virus which causes the majority of cases of cervical cancers - when just two to three were predicted.

The researchers say their findings are in contrast to previous studies that said the risk of cancer did not increase after eight years follow-up after CIN treatment.

Rare cancers

Dr Ikka Kalliala, of Helsinki University General Hospital, said: "There should be more health education. This is about way of life, and certain risk factors women have."

Pat Soutter, a cervical cancer specialist at Hammersmith Hospital in London, who has carried out similar research, said there were cases where women were followed up for relatively short periods of time.

He said: "Women who have had treatment for abnormal cells should all be followed up in the same way.

"And they should be encouraged to have annual smears for the next 20 years, whatever their age."

Dr Anne Szarewski, clinical consultant at Cancer Research UK, told the BBC News website: "The interesting thing about this research, which I don't think has been said before, is that women are at increased risk of HPV-related cancers."

She added: "This does need to be kept in perspective though. Even if a woman has four times the risk of these cancers, that is still extremely rare."



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