Research suggests condoms effective against cervical cancer virus
Using condoms during sex may be an effective protection against the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), some strains of which can cause cervical cancer, a preliminary study from the US suggests.
Previous research looking at condom use and HPV infection has proved inconclusive, but the University of Washington study is the first to track the use of condoms and the incidence of HPV among women in detail.
It estimated that women whose partners always used condoms were up to 70 per cent less likely to have HPV than women whose partners used them less than five per cent of the time.
"Even women whose partners used condoms more than half the time had a 50 per cent risk reduction, as compared with those whose partners used condoms less than five per cent of the time," said the researchers.
The study followed the health and sexual activity of 82 University of Washington women over the course of a year, with the participants keeping a diary of condom use.
There are many strains of HPV, some of which cause genital warts. Other strains can cause cancer in people who are infected.
The cervical cancer screening programme, based on the smear test, detects changes in cervical cells before they become cancerous, thus preventing the disease.
A vaccine against the HPV strains that cause cancer has been developed and is in the process of being licensed in the UK.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer among women under the age of 35 in the UK, with around 3,000 new cases diagnosed annually.
The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Find out more about cervical cancer