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Semen can worsen cervical cancer

Cervical cancer could be aggravated by a hormone-like molecule found in semen called prostaglandin. Researchers also found that the high concentration of prostaglandin in semen makes other diseases of the female reproductive organs worse - including uterine cancer.

A team of scientists led by Dr Henry Jabbour at the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproductive Sciences Unit has found that the prostaglandins present in semen can influence the progression of cervical and uterine cancers by enhancing tumour growth.

Prostaglandin is naturally produced by the cells that line the female reproductive organs. Its usual role is to help regulate cell growth. For example, messages passed on from cell to cell by prostaglandin molecules direct the womb lining to either thicken or shed in the monthly menstrual cycle.

However, the concentration of prostaglandin in seminal fluid is 1000 times higher than that normally found in these cells.

Prostaglandin receptor molecules are present on the surface of the cells that make up cervical and uterine cancer tumours. The influx of prostaglandin delivered by semen enhances the normal level of signalling between cells. The high volume starts new cascades of signals that eventually lead to an increase in tumour growth.  

Cervical cancer is most common in women who live in the developing world. In the UK, screening programmes detect most abnormal cell changes in women before a tumour develops. Although prostaglandins do not cause cervical cancer (it is usually triggered by long-term human papilloma virus infection), this research shows that seminal fluid can contribute to tumour growth.

Dr Henry Jabbour said, ‘‘sexually active women who are at risk of cervical or uterine cancer should encourage their partners to wear a condom to prevent increased exposure to the prostaglandins that might make their condition worse.’’

‘‘It also highlights the potential for a new therapeutic approach that will tackle both possible sources of prostaglandin, those produced naturally by women and those introduced to the body by sperm.’’

For more information please contact the MRC press office on 020 7637 6011, press.office@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

Notes to editors

The Medical Research Council

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is funded by the UK tax-payer. It aims to improve human health. The research it supports and the scientists it trains meet the needs of the health services, the pharmaceutical and other health-related industries and universities. The MRC has funded work which has led to some of the most significant discoveries and achievements in medicine in the UK.

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