Cancer warning over ‘most common STI you’ve never heard of’

An incredibly common yet little-known STI may raise the risk of cervical cancer by five-fold, researchers have warned.

Sexual health experts think that trichomoniasis, or trich, harms cervical tissue and consequently makes it a ‘favourable environment’ for HPV — responsible for 99 per cent of cases of the disease.

An analysis involving nearly half a million women revealed those infected with the parasite were 80 per cent more likely to also have HPV.

Trich typically goes undetected because the majority of cases are asymptomatic. It can, however, cause discharge from the genitals, as well as pain while urinating.

It is more rife than chlamydia and gonorrhoea in some parts of the world and infects around 180million people each year.

You may never heard of trich, but scientists say data suggests an infection of common, but frequently symptomless parasite, could increase the risk of cervical cancer in women by 80 per cent 

Hungarian experts analysed samples taken from more than 473,000 women over the past 15 years. The project, said to be the first of its kind, spanned four continents. 

Results revealed 8,518 of the women —around 1.8 per cent — had trich.

Scientists found women with trich were 79 per cent more likely to have human papillomavirus (HPV) too, compared to those who didn’t. 

Lead researcher Dr Balázs Hamar, an expert in obstetrics and gynaecology at Semmelweis University in Budapest, said: ‘This is because the infection causes the inflammation and abruption of the cervical epithelium/cervix, providing a favourable environment for pathogens such as HPV.’

A smaller sub-section of the study, which involved 600 women, looked at cervical cancer cases and trich directly.

It found women who tested positive for the STI were five times more likely to get struck down with the disease than those who swabbed negative.

For those who also had HPV and trich at the same time (1,811 women), their risk of developing cervical cancer was three times higher than those who had HPV alone.

While the authors said 90 per cent of HPV cases will clear up on their own, the risk of developing cancer from an infection rises after the age of 30 with other factors, like smoking or having a weakened immune system also contributing to the risk. 

Dr Hamar added their results suggest any women found to have trich during an STI check should also be recommended to get an HPV screening. 

Women across the study had an average age of 37 and came from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.  

NHS data shows take-up of cervical cancer screening has been on the overall decline for year and has now reached a record low of 69.9 per cent

NHS data shows take-up of cervical cancer screening has been on the overall decline for year and has now reached a record low of 69.9 per cent

The study has some limitations, which the authors acknowledged.

As all women were screened simultaneously for trich, HPV and cervical cancer how the parasite exactly could contribute to the development of the disease over time was unclear, the authors said.

They called for further research into trich and cervical cancer risk to be conducted. 

While trich is tricky to diagnose due to its subtle symptoms, US scientists recently developed a cheap and easy to use finger prick test that can help detect the infection. 

Trich is mainly passed between people via unprotected sex or through sharing sex toys.

The STI is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can be so subtle or even non-existent in some people.

If it is diagnosed patients are usually prescribed antibiotics which clears up the infection quickly.

About 850 women in the UK die from cervical cancer each year.

While preventing the disease has come leaps and bounds thanks to the HPV vaccine and regular smear tests, 3,000 cases still occur each year. 

Publishing their findings in the International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics

What are the symptoms of trichomoniasis? 

Trichmoniasis can be difficult to diagnose as the majority of cases are asymptomatic. 

And symptoms that do present, are similar to those of other STIs.

The NHS says you should visit a sexual health clinic if you think you have trichomoniasis.

What are the symptoms? 

For women:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge that may be thick, thin or frothy and yellow-green in colour.
  • Producing more discharge than normal, which may also have an unpleasant fishy smell.
  • Soreness, swelling and itching around the vagina – sometimes the inner thighs also become itchy.
  • Pain or discomfort when passing urine or having sex.

For men:

  • Pain when peeing or during ejaculation.
  • Needing to pee more frequently than usual.
  • Thin, white discharge from the penis.
  • Soreness, swelling and redness around the head of the penis or foreskin.

Source: NHS