Cervical Cancer Deaths Show a Huge Racial Gap

Black women dying at a rate 77% higher than thought, and twice the rate of white women
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 23, 2017 8:03 AM CST
Cervical Cancer Deaths Show a Huge Racial Gap
A patient registers for a free breast and cervical cancer screenings in Minneapolis in this file photo by the College of American Pathologists.   (Craig Lassig /AP Images for College of American Pathologists)

Many more American women are dying from cervical cancer than previously thought, with black women in particular dying at rates akin to those in sub-Saharan Africa, the New York Times reports. Although cervical cancer is highly preventable, African-American women are dying at a rate 77% higher that previously estimated, CNN reports. For white women, the rate was 47% higher. "This shows that our disparities are even worse than we feared,” Dr. Kathleen M. Schmeler tells the Times. New research in the journal Cancer excluded from death rates women who had undergone hysterectomies; previous research had included them even though they were not at risk because their cervixes were removed. Last year, there were 12,990 new cases of cervical cancer in the US, and 4,120 deaths, per the National Cancer Institute.

The new study re-examined those figures. For black women, the news was shockingly bad, with 10.1 per 100,000 dying of cervical cancer (compared to 4.7 for white women), a rate seen in underdeveloped countries, per the Times. Reasons for the racial disparity included poor access to screenings and the HPV vaccine. Experts said screening options must be expanded for at-risk women, and warned that the gap could widen if the Affordable Care Act is repealed and women's health clinics shuttered. While screenings work well, "many women in America are not getting them," says Schmeler. Symptoms for cervical cancer do not appear until late, which is why the American Cancer Society recommends screenings and a pap test every three years from age 21, and every five years after age 30. (HPV-related cancer is "epidemic.")

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