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This study investigates the extent to which the distinctive cross-sectional marital status picture of risk for cancer of the uterine cervix (single, married, widowed, divorced in ascending order of risk) has persisted in post-war Britain. Incidence and mortality due to invasive cervical cancer amongst single women now exceeds that of the married, and for both has become much closer to that of the widowed and divorced. A dramatic increase in carcinoma in situ in Scotland, seen particularly in the single since 1982, must partly reflect changes in screening and diagnostic classification, but is also consistent with the later occurrence of the sexual revolution in Scotland. Overall in Britain, the distribution of screening and hysterectomy cannot account for the present day pattern of the disease. Available data on patterns of smoking and oral contraceptive use are broadly consistent with a role for them in determining the current disease pattern associated with marital status but their possible involvement cannot be disentangled from the more likely effect of changing levels of sexual activity increasing the risk of sexually transmitted disease. As marital status becomes a less important social indicator of sexual behaviour, it has also become a much less reliable marker of cervical cancer risk.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Epidemiol

Publication Date





385 - 392


Carcinoma, Cross-Sectional Studies, Female, Humans, Incidence, Marital Status, Marriage, Risk Factors, Time Factors, United Kingdom, Uterine Cervical Neoplasms