Women having sex at a young age could be at greater risk of developing cerical cancer, according to researchers.
A new study has shown that women may experience a greater risk of developing cervical cancer by becoming sexually active at a young age, encouraging campaigners to increase their battle for the screening age limit to be lowered.
In England, women do not qualify for NHS screening until the age of 25, which can be up to 10 years after they may have contracted HPV – the sexually transmitted virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer.
Dr Lesley Walker, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘These results back up the need for the HPV vaccination to be given in schools at an age before they start having sex, especially among girls in deprived areas.’
The research published in the British Journal of Cancer looked into why poorer women seem to have a higher risk of the disease, and found that they tended to have sex at a younger age compared to the middle class.
Dr Silvia Francheschi, who led the study of 20,000 women, said the risk of cervical cancer was higher in women who had their first intercourse aged 20, compared with 25.
‘In our study, poorer women become sexual active on average four years earlier. So they may also have been infected with HPV earlier, giving the virus more time to produce the long sequence of events that are needed for cancer development.’
In addition, the study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer found that the age a woman has her first baby plays an important part. Smoking and then number of sexual partners a person has are not significant.