Social differences in sexual behaviour and cervical cancer.

S. de Sanjosé, F. X. Bosch, N. Muñoz, K. Shah

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In this chapter we first describe the variation of cervical cancer in relation to social class. Thereafter we examine the causes for the occurrence of socioeconomic differences in invasive cervical cancer, using data from two case-control studies carried out in Colombia and Spain. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in developing countries and the sixth most common in developed countries. In all areas, it is more frequent among women of low socioeconomic status, it is associated with multiple sexual partners and early age at first sexual intercourse, and both incidence and mortality are reduced by screening. According to population-based surveys in industrialized countries, men of low socioeconomic status report fewer sexual partners than men of high socioeconomic status but there is no clear indication that the same is true of women of low socioeconomic status. In the case-control studies in Spain and Colombia, the human papillomavirus and all other sexually transmitted diseases were more prevalent among women in low socioeconomic strata. Number of sexual partners and particularly contacts with prostitutes were higher among husbands of women of low socioeconomic status. Other potential risk factors for the disease, such as smoking and oral contraceptive use, and also cervical cancer screening (Pap smears), were more common in women of high social strata. Women with no schooling had a threefold higher risk in Spain and a fivefold higher risk in Colombia of having cervical cancer compared with women who had achieved a higher educational level. After adjustment for sexual behaviour, HPV DNA status, history of Pap smears and husband's contact with prostitutes, this association was considerably reduced. These results are indicative that socioeconomic differences in the incidence of cervical cancer can be partly explained by differences in the prevalence of HPV DNA. Men's sexual behaviour and particularly contacts with prostitutes might be a major contributor to the higher prevalence of HPV DNA among the poor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-317
Number of pages9
JournalIARC scientific publications
Issue number138
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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