[h=1]Casual sex fuelling cervical cancer rise[/h] [h=2]Cervical cancer rates in young women have risen steeply in the last two decades because they are having more unprotected sex at an earlier age, figures indicate.[/h] The incidence in women in their 20s almost doubled between 1992 and 2006 - rising 43 per cent - even though rates in all other age groups have dropped. The figures, from a Manchester University study, show the cervical cancer rate per 100,000 women aged 20 to 29 rose from 5.5 to 7.9. In absolute terms, the number of cases in this age group rose from 215 to 283. Although that is only a rise of 32 per cent, because the number of twenty-something women has dropped from 3.8 million to 3.3 million, the incidence rate has risen more steeply. Robert Alston, study author, who is funded by Cancer Research UK, said: "Our results show that although numbers getting cervical cancer are dropping in the immediate years after cervical screening began, the numbers of women in their 20s now developing the disease have been rising since the early 90s." The research is being presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) annual Cancer Conference in Liverpool, which starts on Sunday. Cervical cancer is caused by strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), transmitted during sex. The virus is endemic but only turns cells cancerous under certain conditions. Hazel Nunn, head of health information and evidence at Cancer Research UK, said rises in other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) indicated that women were having unprotected sex earlier and with more sexual partners. Smoking could also be a factor among the one in four women in their 20s who smoke, as chemicals in cigarettes can damage cells in the cervix, making them less able to fight off infections and protect against the disease developing. Some have concerns that the Department of Health's strategy for protecting women from cervical cancer means more women in their 20s slip through the net. Those a few years younger have been given the anti-HPV vaccine Cervarix. Since 2008, all 12 to 13-year-olds have been offered it. There was also a two-year catch-up campaign for 14 to 17-year-olds. Campaigners had wanted to extend this to an older age group, but it was decided against because the vaccine is much less effective in those already carrying HPV. From 25, women in England are offered smear tests under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme. However, a few will already have developed cervical cancer by then. Nunn said there were good reasons for this, as screening was less effective at correctly identifying cervical cancer in young women for biological reasons. She added: "These figures show just how crucial it is for all 12 to 13 year-old girls to have the HPV vaccination. "Human papilloma virus is a very common infection and the major cause of cervical cancer. "The HPV vaccine protects against two strains of the infection and is most effective when given to women before they are exposed to the virus. "The vaccine is available for no cost to all 12-13 year old girls and is usually given at school. Older women can pay to have the vaccine if they wish. "Whatever your age, if you have any bleeding between periods, during sex or after the menopause, you should go to your GP." Robert Music, director of Jos Cervical Cancer Trust, said: The results of this research are a big concern as we know that cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease thanks to cervical screening. "But reminding younger women that they can take pro-active steps to reduce their risk of cervical cancer by attending screening continues to be a very real challenge. "Around 34 per cent of women aged 25 to 29 didnt attend screening last year whilst in Wales and Scotland who start screening at 20, almost half of those aged 20 to 24 did not take up their invitation last year. "It is essential we make every effort to find targeted ways to educate and persuade younger women to attend screening when invited and remind them that quite simply it could save their life.