Girls who have sex at a young age can double their risk of developing cervical cancer, according to an international study of nearly 20,000 women.
Cervical cancer is linked to a sexually transmitted infection. The infection is more likely to lead to cancer if it is picked up early in life.
The findings come from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The study leader, Dr Silvia Franceschi, said that early infection gives the human papillomavirus (HPV) more time to “produce the long sequence of events that are needed for cancer development”.
Dr Lesley Walker at Cancer Research UK said: “Infections at a very young age may be especially dangerous as they have more time to cause damage that eventually leads to cancer.”
The Government plans to increase the number of sex education lessons. However critics have attacked the content of the lessons as likely to make the situation worse, not better.
The Family Education Trust argues that young people do not need to be presented with a menu of sexual options from which they can make “informed choices”.
Instead the whole issue should be approached with modesty and “within a clear moral framework that shows a proper respect for parents and for marriage”.
The Trust’s Director, Norman Wells, warned in the summer that: “Sex education is an ideological battlefield on which a war is being waged for the hearts and minds of our children.
“It is a fast-moving scene. The need for parents to be alert and vigilant has never been greater.”
Earlier this year a Government-backed scheme spent £6 million on sex education and contraception advice for a group of teenagers. Yet the rate of teenage pregnancies among the group more than doubled.
At the end of the scheme there were more teenage pregnancies among the youngsters who had taken part than among a comparable group who hadn’t.
Professor Paton, of Nottingham University, commented last year: “There has been a tendency for the Government’s teenage pregnancy strategy to focus on creating schemes where teenagers can get the morning after pill or other forms of family planning at school or clinics.
“The danger with this sort of approach is that it can lead to an increase in risky sexual behaviour amongst some young people.”