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Open Access Research article

Determinants of sexual activity and its relation to cervical cancer risk among South African Women

Diane Cooper1*, Margaret Hoffman1, Henri Carrara1, Lynn Rosenberg2, Judy Kelly2, Ilse Stander3, Lynnette Denny4, Anna-Lise Williamson56 and Samuel Shapiro1

Author Affiliations

1 Women's Health Research Unit, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Anzio Road, Observatory, 7925, Cape Town, South Africa

2 Slone Epidemiology Unit, Boston University, Boston, USA

3 Medical Research Council of South Africa, Tygerberg, South Africa

4 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Anzio Road, Observatory, 7925, Cape Town, South Africa

5 Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Anzio Road, Observatory, 7925, Cape Town, South Africa

6 National Health Laboratory Service, South Africa

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:341  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-341

Published: 27 November 2007

Abstract

Background

Invasive cervical cancer is the commonest cause of cancer morbidity and mortality in South African women. This study provides information on adult women's sexual activity and cervical cancer risk in South Africa.

Methods

The data were derived from a case-control study of hormonal contraceptives and cervical cancer risk. Information on age of sexual debut and number of lifetime sexual partners was collected from 524 incident cases and 1541 hospital controls. Prevalence ratios and adjusted prevalence ratios were utilised to estimate risk in exposures considered common. Crude and adjusted relative risks were estimated where the outcome was uncommon, using multiple logistic regression analysis.

Results

The median age of sexual debut and number of sexual partners was 17 years and 2 respectively. Early sexual debut was associated with lower education, increased number of life time partners and alcohol use. Having a greater number of sexual partners was associated with younger sexual debut, being black, single, higher educational levels and alcohol use. The adjusted odds ratio for sexual debut < 16 years and ≥ 4 life-time sexual partners and cervical cancer risk were 1.6 (95% CI 1.2 – 2.2) and 1.7 (95% CI 1.2 – 2.2), respectively.

Conclusion

Lower socio-economic status, alcohol intake, and being single or black, appear to be determinants of increased sexual activity in South African women. Education had an ambiguous effect. As expected, cervical cancer risk is associated with increased sexual activity. Initiatives to encourage later commencement of sex, and limiting the number of sexual partners would have a favourable impact on risk of cancer of the cervix and other sexually transmitted infections