Unfaithful husbands may give their wives cancer.
That’s the conclusion of a study that found women are five to 11 times more likely to develop cervical cancer if their men frequent prostitutes or have many sexual partners. The cancer is directly linked to human papillomavirus, or HPV, a virus that is commonly spread by sexual intercourse.
“Male behavior is the important thing in this cancer,” said Dr. Keerti V. Shah, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He said men who have many sexual partners are very likely to carry home the HPV virus and that up to 97 percent of cervical cancers are infected with that virus.
“In effect, the husband takes cancer home to his wife,” said Shah, co-author of a study on cervical cancer to be published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Although the study showed that men brought the virus home to their wives, any woman can put herself at increased risk by having many different sexual partners, said Shah. The cancer risk for women, he said, increases with the number of either direct or indirect sexual exposures.
The study, conducted in Spain, compared the sexual patterns of husbands whose wives have cervical cancer with a control group of husbands whose wives were healthy. The study took into account other lifestyle influences, such as smoking. The study also took genital swabbings to test for the presence in both spouses of the HPV virus.
In the study group were 183 women with cervical cancer and their husbands. The control group had 171 couples.
Risk of cervical cancer was increased 11 times for wives of men who had 21 or more other sex partners. The cervical cancer risk was eight times greater among wives of men who frequented prostitutes, the study found.
Dr. Willard Barnes of the Georgetown University School of Medicine said the study reinforces evidence that “cervical cancer in many ways is similar to classic venereal disease.”