Smokers warned of cervical cancer risk

Tuesday 4 December, 2007

Alarming new data from The Cancer Council Victoria has revealed less than a quarter of smokers accept their habit can cause cervical cancer, despite international research showing that female smokers are 60% more likely to develop cervical cancer than non-smokers.

PapScreen Victoria together with Quit are urging the 21 per cent of Australian women who smoke to quit, reminding them that they are far more likely to develop cervical cancer than non-smokers.

"We know that women who smoke have a much higher chance of developing cervical cancer, and we now also know many smokers are completely unaware of this increased risk. This is very concerning," said the manager of PapScreen Victoria, Lea
Rawlings.

Cervical cancer kills almost 250 women in Australia every year, with 750 new cases diagnosed. The human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus which causes cervical cancer, must be present in the cervix to increase a smoker's risk, which is highly probable considering HPV affects four out of every five women at some stage in their life.

"HPV is spread through genital skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity and is considered a normal part of being sexually active. For most women, the virus clears naturally from the body in one to two years, however, the risk of this not happening is
considerably higher in women who smoke," said Ms Rawlings.

"Smoking may potentially increase the risk of long-term HPV infection, which if left untreated can develop into cervical cancer. Cancer causing chemicals from tobacco smoke have been found in the cervical mucus of smokers. These damage the DNA
in the cervical cells of a smoker, and cancer appears to develop at a faster rate than in non-smokers," she added.

Executive Director of Quit, Ms Fiona Sharkie said there was good news for females who had quit smoking, with their risk of developing cervical cancer decreasing by almost 40%.

"The risk of cervical cancer increases according to the number of cigarettes smoked and the younger the woman was when began to smoke, so the sooner women quit, the better.

"Put simply, smoking is one of the worst things you can do for you health. Smokers tell us all the time to keep the bad news coming, and by reminding female smokers of the link between smoking and cervical cancer we are giving them yet another good
reason to quit," added Ms Sharkie.

Women who want to quit can ring the Quitline on 13 78 48. Women who have questions about cervical cancer, Pap tests or HPV can ring the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 or visit www.papscreen.org.au.