A woman reads a magazine in the doctor’s waiting room.(Photo: cwzahner, Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Women’s risk of dying from cervical cancer may be much greater than medical professionals originally thought, according to a new study.
Researchers found that black women in the United States are dying from cervical cancer at a rate 77% higher than previously thought and white women are dying at a rate 47% higher, according to the study published in the journal Cancer on Monday.
The study, led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers, marks a turn from how cervical cancer mortality rates have been calculated in the past.
To get a more accurate idea of who is getting cervical cancer, the researchers excluded women from the study who’ve had their cervixes removed through hysterectomies, and therefore have zero chance of developing cervical cancer.
"Since the goal of a screening program is to ultimately reduce mortality from cervical cancer, then you must have accurate estimates within the population targeted by those programs -- adult women with a cervix,” study leader Anne F. Rositch, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School said in a statement.
According to the American Cancer Society, in 2017, 12,820 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed, and around 4,210 women will die from the disease.
Researchers found that many of the women dying from cervical cancer are over the age of 65. There isn't a great emphasis on screening for women over 65 because it was believed older women had less risk of developing cervical cancer — something Rositch said is dead wrong.
"These data tell us that as long as a woman retains her cervix, it is important that she continue to obtain recommended screening for cervical cancer since the risk of death from the disease remains significant well into older age," Rositch said in the statement.
A simple Pap smear can find cervical cancer in its early stages, or identify changes in the cervix before cancer develops. There are many resources for women including programs like SEE, TEST & TREAT® , which is sponsored by the College of American Pathologists and "provides exams, same day results and a follow up care plan," according to Dr. Crystal Moore, a member of the College of American Pathologists.
“No woman should die of cervical cancer," Moore said in a statement. "The information released today indicates that women of color experience cervical cancer at higher rates than Caucasian women, bringing to light the importance of increased education, outreach and support to ensure that HPV infections and precancerous cervical lesions are identified and treated early.
For the study, researchers analyzed data on cervical cancer mortality rates from the National Center for Health Statistics and from the National Cancer Institute and then removed the women who reported a hysterectomy.
Rositch said while the research helps understand that black and older women are getting cervical cancer more, it doesn't explain why they are dying at higher rates.
"While trends over time show that the racial disparities gap has been closing somewhat, these data emphasize that it should remain a priority area," Rositch said. "Black women are dying of cervical cancer at twice the rate as white women in the United States, and we need to put in place measures to reverse the trend."
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