Page last updated at 23:59 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

'Baby boomers' hit by sex cancers

Couple kissing
Sexual "liberation" may have fuelled cancer rates

The arrival of the "swinging sixties" may have heralded a rise in sexually-transmitted cancers, say researchers.

Rates of anal, vulval and vaginal cancers rose for "baby boomers" born in the decades after the Second World War.

The culprit, said the King's College London study, is the human papillomavirus (HPV), acquired during sex.

Changes in sexual habits may be responsible, the British Journal of

Cancer reported.

These results have revealed a snapshot of just how much rates of these cancers have increased in the post war generations
Dr David Robinson
King's College London

HPV has been implicated in a number of cancers, including cervical, anal, vulval, vaginal and penile.

Some estimates suggest that up to three out of four people will be infected with it at some point in their lives, although the immune system is normally able to destroy it.

However, if an infection is persistent, it may cause cells to become cancerous.

The King's College London study, using figures from a cancer database, suggests that rates of some of these cancers rose quickly for the generations born in the 1950s and 1960s.

There has been a steady rise in anal cancer rates over that period in both men and women, but with women born in the 1960s three times more likely to develop it than those born 20 years earlier.

Although vaginal and vulval cancer rates have fallen away in modern generations, they are higher in the 1960s generation of women compared with those born in the first half of the 1940s.

Screening success

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer linked to HPV.

Rates of the disease stayed steady during the period studied, a fact credited mainly to the cervical screening programme.

The risk to future generations from the disease is likely to fall further after the introduction of a vaccine to some types of HPV.

The researchers said they believed that both changes in sexual practices, and a greater exposure to HPV were the likely cause for those increased rates.

Separate studies have suggested a rise in female anal intercourse involving the 1960s generation.

Dr David Robinson, who led the study, said: "These results have revealed a snapshot of just how much rates of these cancers have increased in the post war generations.

"For anal cancer, rates are now higher in women than in men - however, programmes of vaccination against HPV, whilst aimed primarily at reducing the burden of cervical cancer, may also help to reduce the incidence of cancers at these other sites."

Dr Lesley Walker, from Cancer Research UK, said that it was important people understood the dangers linked to HPV.

"Using a condom will lower the risk of exposure to the virus. HPV vaccines are an important advance for future generations, but the cervical screening programme remains vitally important in detecting any changes that might lead to cancer."



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
Nobel prize for viral discoveries
06 Oct 08 |  Health
Row over cervical vaccine choice
18 Jun 08 |  Health
Q&A: The cervical cancer vaccine
29 Sep 09 |  Health

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific