Cervical cancer death rates much higher in black women

A disturbing new study released today has found that black women are dying from cervical cancer at a rate of 77 percent higher than previously thought.

The study, which was published in the journal Cancer, gives women one more thing to worry about in the fight against cervical cancer. Study co-author Anne Rositch, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, and colleagues found that black women are dying from cervical cancer at a rate 77 percent higher than previously thought and white women are dying at a rate 47 percent higher.

More: What your doctor should be telling you about cervical cancer

Why the sudden change in the numbers? The study found that previous estimates of cervical cancer death rates didn’t account for women who had their cervixes removed in hysterectomy procedures, which eliminates the risk of developing the cancer. It’s important to note that the new rates do not reflect a rise in the number of deaths, rather, the figures come from a re-examination of existing numbers, in an adjusted context.

Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer can often be successfully treated when it’s found early.

According to the American Cancer Society, deaths from cervical cancer have reduced by more than 50 percent over the past 40 years, which is largely due to an increase in screenings such as the Pap test, so it’s no wonder these new numbers coming out are concerning to both the medical community and women alike.

More: Your Pap smear isn’t enough to detect cervical cancer

Among black women, the team estimated the cervical cancer mortality rate to be 10.1 per 100,000 — 77 percent higher than the previous estimate of 5.7 per 100,000. The researchers also found that the previous estimates of differences in cervical cancer mortality between black and white women were underestimated by 44 percent.

According to Rositch, the new data suggests that racial differences in cervical cancer mortality are narrowing, but that it should remain a key area of focus. She also points out that many of those who are dying are over the age of 65, a cutoff point where guidelines generally no longer recommend women with cervices be regularly screened for cervical cancer.

Although the study did not explore reasons for the racial disparity, some doctors said it could reflect unequal access to screening, ability to pursue early-warning test results and insurance coverage.

And to add to the already increased concern about these new numbers, women also have to contend with the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which could create a health care crisis for millions of American women.

More: 10 cancer symptoms you’re ignoring

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, stressed the fact that the organization provides up to 2 million women nationwide with affordable preventive health services like cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection testing and prevention and family planning assistance. Women will be harmed, Richards said, if legislative bodies succeed in restricting access to those services.


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