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Poppers may cause increased cancer risk in older gay men

By Ross Semple

Older gay men who regularly use poppers have an increased risk of some cancers; notably those caused by viruses in men who have sex with men.

A study by the journal AIDS, which tracked 3,223 men over a period of almost 20 years, showed a link between heavy use of poppers and these cancers in HIV-negative men aged 50-70.

Poppers (chemically known as amyl nitrate) are popularly used among some gay men during sex, and are available over the counter.

After removing other factors like number of sexual partners and other demographics, it was found that older HIV-negative men are three times more likely to develop certain kinds of cancer, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma and anal and oropharyngeal cancer (HPV).

HIV-positive poppers users in the same age bracket did not show the same results. The study explains that this is likely “due to the much greater impact of HIV-related immunodeficiency on cancer risk.”

Interestingly, the study found that there was “no increase in cancer risk among men with a larger number of sexual partners or men with a higher frequency of sexually transmitted infections, both of which might lead to greater exposure to viral infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV).

Poppers were almost banned in the UK last year, before a government advisory board confirmed that they were not covered in a ban targeting other legal highs.

With the introduction of the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, many people (ministers included) believed that they had been banned, and indeed it caused a colourful debate in the House of Commons during which Crispin Blunt MP admitted to using them regularly.

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