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20 February 2013

Coombe research shows that women who smoke are at greater risk of the HPV infection

Research carried out in the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital, and funded by a €120,000 grant from the Irish Cancer Society, has shown that women who smoke are at greater risk of picking up a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection, the main cause of cervical cancer.

HPV infection is very common, infecting 70-80% of women at some stage in their lifetime. In most cases this infection is cleared by the woman's immune system. However, in a small percentage of women the infection persists for longer and these women are at risk of developing high-grade cervical pre-cancer, and ultimately cervical cancer.

Irish Cancer Society Research Scholar, Christine White led the study with the CERVIVA research consortium headed by her Coombe colleagues Professor John O' Leary and Dr Cara Martin. More than a thousand women with low-grade cervical abnormalities on their smear test were recruited for the study, which followed the women over a period of 36 months from the time at which they had their first abnormal pap smear.

Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor associated with cervical cancer and results of this study have shown that women with detectable nicotine metabolite, known as cotinine, in their urine sample were at a higher risk of acquiring a HPV infection than those who were not exposed to tobacco smoke.

Speaking about her research, Christine White said: " Our study highlights the harmful effects of tobacco smoke on women's health. We know that women who smoke have less immune cells in the cervix. Our results have shown that these women are more susceptible to picking up a HPV infection, and find it harder to fight off, putting them at a higher risk of getting cervical cancer".

"The funding from the Irish Cancer Society has been central to our work, and we are very thankful for their support and for the opportunity to bring these findings to light", she added.

Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society, Professor John Fitzpatrick said: " Cervical cancer is the second most common female cancer in Europe, and each year about 200 women in Ireland are diagnosed with the disease. We congratulate Ms White on her hard work, which serves to further highlight the dangerous toxins contained in cigarette smoke that are proven to be extremely damaging to your health and the health of others around you. Ms White's research represents the type of high level research the Irish Cancer Society is funding to make a difference in the lives of women affected by all cancers, but especially cervical cancer."

Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital
Cork St.
Dublin 8.

Tel: +353-1-408 5200
Fax: +353-1-453 6033

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