More promiscuous people are more likely to get cancer in old age, according to a study.
Researchers found that having 10 or more sexual partners over a lifetime almost doubled the risk of a woman developing cancer, and raised it by two thirds for men.
A link between sexually-transmitted infections and cancers – HPV, for example, is known to raise the risk of diseases in the cervix and penis – could be to blame.
And people who had sex with more partners also tended to drink more alcohol and smoke more cigarettes, the scientists said – but they also did more exercise.
Researchers found that having 10 or more sexual partners over a lifetime almost doubled the risk of a woman developing cancer
The finding was no reason to avoid having sex, they added, and said that intercourse brings a variety of physical and mental health benefits which outweighed the longer-term risk.
Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, collected data from nearly 6,000 men and women over the age of 50.
Among men, those who reported more than 10 lovers in their lives had a 69 per cent higher chance of getting cancer, compared with those who had bedded only one or none.
Women who reported 10 or more sexual partners were found to be 91 per cent more likely to have been diagnosed with cancer.
Only 486 men (19 per cent) and 239 women (7.5 per cent) admitted to having had sex with 10 or more people.
Dr Lee Smith, an Anglia Ruskin University expert and the author of the study, told MailOnline: ‘We expected there to be an association between number of sexual partners and cancer risk as previous research has shown that specific STIs may lead to several cancers.
‘Indeed, a higher number of sexual partners means greater potential exposure to STIs. It is interesting that the risk is higher in women when compared to men.
‘This may be because the link between certain STIs and cancer is stronger in women, such as HPV (Human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer compared to HPV and penile cancer.’
Researchers said that a higher risk of catching STIs could translate to a higher risk of developing cancer (stock image)
People in the study, which was published in the journal BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health, had an average age of 64 and most were married.
The most common category for both sexes was one or no sexual partners – 785 out of 2,537 men and 1,285 out of 3,185 women.
In both sexes, people with a more colourful sexual history also tended to be younger, single and in either the richest or the poorest communities.
And those who reported a higher tally of sexual partners were also more likely to smoke, drink frequently, and do more vigorous physical activity on a weekly basis, the study found.
DATING APPS BLAMED FOR RISING STI RATES
Clinics are ‘struggling’ to cope with soaring numbers of STIs because dating apps are encouraging casual sex, experts have warned warned.
Cases of syphilis rose by half in Wales between 2016 and 2017, and record numbers of over-65s are getting syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia in England, figures have shown.
Experts and doctors in the field have warned the fast turnaround of partners and rise in casual sex fuelled by online dating apps may be making catching an STI more likely.
And they also make it more difficult to contact past partners, who may not have mutual friends.
Dr Olwen Williams, president of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV told the BBC in October: ‘The frequency of app hook-ups and dating apps used as a sort of medium to access sexual activity seems to have increased significantly.
‘What we can say about sexual mixing and sexual networking is that things have changed considerably.
‘We’re seeing a genuine rise in STIs. If we were just seeing an increase in testing then our figures would look slightly different, but it feels that way.
‘Certainly in my career I’ve never seen so much gonorrhoea or syphilis in my area, ever.’
When all the data was analysed, a significant association emerged between the number of lifetime sexual partners and risk of a cancer diagnosis among both sexes.
Participants were also asked to rate their own health and report any long standing condition or infirmity which impinged on routine activity in any way.
Researchers claim the results provide some evidence that the number of lifetime sexual partners is associated with adverse health outcomes in a sample of older adults in England.
However, Dr Smith did not want to discourage people from having sex.
He said: ‘Sexual activity has multiple physical and mental health benefits especially in older age and we would not want to discourage sexual activity among older adults.
‘People who had risky sexual encounters should contact their health care providers to get checked for potential sexually transmitted infections and should discuss openly about how to minimise this risk with their health care providers. Using appropriate protection will reduce the risk of related cancers going forward.’
Researchers noted that their study could not establish cause but said the findings chime with those of previous studies, implicating sexually transmitted infections in the development of several types of cancer and hepatitis.
They didn’t obtain information on the specific types of cancer participants reported, but speculated: ‘…the heightened risk of cancer might be driven by those types known to be associated with [sexually transmitted infections].’
And they suggested that inquiring about the number of sexual partners might complement existing cancer screening programmes by helping to identify those at risk.
That is, if further research can establish a causal association between the number of sexual partners and subsequent ill health.
But an explanation for the gender difference in long term condition risk remains ‘elusive,’ they wrote, especially given that men tend to have more lifetime sexual partners than women, while women are more likely than men to see a doctor when they feel ill, so potentially limiting the associated consequences for their long term health.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF STIS?
Not all STIs have symptoms, which is why health experts recommend regular testing at a sexual health clinic or with home testing kits.
Common STI symptoms include:
- unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or anus
- pain when urinating
- lumps or skin growths around the genitals or anus
- a rash
- unusual vaginal bleeding
- itchy genitals or anus
- blisters and sores around the genitals or anus
Other symptoms specific to each STI, in addition to those above, are listed below.
Chlamydia: Most people with chlamydia do not notice any symptoms and do not know they have it. Women can experience pain in the stomach, bleeding after sex and between periods. Men may have pain and swelling in the testicles.
Syphilis: The symptoms of syphilis are not always obvious. They include small, painless sores or ulcers on the genitals, anus, or other areas like the mouth, a blotchy red rash that often affects the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, small skin growths, white patches in the mouth, tiredness, headaches, joint pains, a fever and swollen glands.
Gonorrhoea: A thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis, and in women, bleeding before periods. Around one in ten infected men and almost half of women don’t experience symptoms.
Trichomoniasis: In women, trich can cause soreness, swelling or itching around the vagina or thighs, pain during sex and abnormal vaginal discharge that may be thick, thin or frothy and yellow-green in colour. It may also have a fishy smell.
In men, trich can cause pain during ejaculation, needing to urinate more often, thin, white discharge from the penis or soreness, swelling and redness around the head of the penis or foreskin.
Genital warts: Causes one of more painless growth or lump around the vagina, penis or anus, itching or bleeding from your genitals or anus, and a change to your normal flow of pee (for example, sideways).
Genital herpes: Causes small blisters that burst to leave red, open sores around your genitals, anus, thighs or bottom, tingling, burning or itching around your genitals, pain when urinating, and in women, vaginal discharge that’s not normal for her.
Pubic lice: Causes itching in the affected areas, especially at night, black powder in your underwear and blue spots or small spots of blood on the skin caused by lice bites.
Scabies: One of the first symptoms is intense itching, especially at night. The rash can appear anywhere, but it often starts between the fingers. The rash spreads and turns into tiny red dots. It is passed with close skin contact.