How sex can cause cancer

8:04 PM, Apr 20, 2011   |    comments
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By Kay Quinn, Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - It may seem like the most unlikely of pairings: sex and cancer.  But a sexually transmitted disease is responsible for causing a rising number of cases of tumors.

On our "8 Ways to Prevent Cancer" segment, we answer the question: how does sex raise my risk of cancer?

"They estimate that 50 percent of men and women will acquire HPV at some point in their life," says Dr. Siobhan Sutcliffe, an epidemiologist at Siteman Cancer Center, quoting statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. You get it through sex or genital contact with someone who is infected.  But because the majority of people with it have no symptoms, and most are never tested for it, you'll likely never know if you've had it.

Right now, about 20 million Americans have HPV, and another 6 million people will become newly infected this year.

"So lots of people get infected, it may persist for a little while and then the body clears it," says Dr. Sutcliffe.

But when an HPV infection doesn't clear, or you're exposed multiple times by multiple partners, some people will go on to develop genital warts, or even cancer.

"The more times you are exposed," says Dr. Sutcliffe, "the greater the chance that you may develop cancer, just from a probability statement."

Cancers include cervical cancer: 12 thousand new cases are diagnosed every year.

Other cancers that can be caused by HPV include vaginal cancer, penile cancer, anal cancer and even oral cancers, if someone's been exposed through oral sex.

Lowering your risk for cancer can start with frequent cancer screenings.

Dr. Sutcliffe says other ways to prevent HPV infections include:

- Abstaining from sex.
- Using condoms to reduce your risk.
- Carefully choosing your partners.
- Considering the HPV vaccine for young girls and boys not yet sexually active.



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