Women, take heed.

If your husband or boyfriend smokes, you're likely at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer.That's the finding of a recent study conducted by University of Utah researchers.

The study, published in the March 17 Journal of the American Medical Association, reported that women exposed to passive smoke for three or more hours per day were nearly three times more likely to have cervical cancer than those not exposed to passive smoke.

The study is the first to explore the possible role of passive smoking in the development of cervical cancer, a malignancy of the neck of the uterus.

The study was conducted by Dr. Martha L. Slattery, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine in the U.of U. Health Sciences Center, and her colleagues.

They uncovered two major findings.

"First, the risk associated with passive smoking in this study is as strong as that observed from personal cigarette smoking," the authors said.

Secondly, women who smoke have a threefold increased risk of cervical cancer.

Slattery's study isn't the first to draw that conclusion. An earlier one was conducted by Dr. Joseph L. Lyon, associate professor in the U.'s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.

"The results from this study support previous research that has shown that women who smoke cigarettes are at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer," she said. "The risk is greatest in women less than 30 years of age and in women who have had one or fewer sexual partners."

Those conclusions didn't surprise the researchers.

"We were surprised by the magnitude of the association between passive smoking and cervical cancer even though other studies have shown similar risks associated with smoking," Slattery said. "Because this is the first study that has shown that passive smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer, the results should be interpreted cautiously. Other studies need to be done."

The local study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, was conducted in the urban areas of Utah between 1984 and 1987. Women who were residing in Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, and Utah counties and who were between the ages of 20 and 59were eligible.

Slattery said the five-year study was restricted to white women because less than 5 percent of the Utah population is non-white.

The U. researchers studied 266 cases of cervical cancer and 408 women who did not have the disease.

The sample in the study included a large number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose religion forbids tobacco use.

As a result, "We were able to assess passive smoking risk in non-smokers as well as smokers," Slattery said.

At greatest risk are women exposed to passive smoke in the home. The study revealed that exposure to a lot of passive smoke in the home resulted in a twofold increased risk of developing cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer will strike more than 13,000 U.S. women this year and kill 6,000 of them, according to American Cancer Society estimates.

The most important cause of cervical cancer is believed to be a sexually transmitted virus called papillomavirus, but higher rates of cervical cancer among smokers has led researchers to suspect that cigarettes may be a factor.