According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cervical cancer death rates have been declining for the past 40 years in the United States. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers thanks to the HPV vaccine, which protects you from the virus that causes most cervical cancer cases, and routine pap smears, which can detect pre-cancerous conditions in the cervix before cancer develops. But a new study found there are more cancer deaths than previously estimated.
Cervical cancer death rates are calculated by measuring the number of women who died from the disease against the rest of the population. For years, this data included women who have had hysterectomies (a hysterectomy is a surgery to remove the uterus, and usually includes the removal of the cervix). Without a cervix, a woman cannot be diagnosed with cervical cancer. The epidemiologists in this recent study excluded women who have had hysterectomies from their counts, which then showed cervical cancer is a worse problem than we thought.
The study also revealed the disparity between the death rates of white women and black women is greater than previously estimated. Doctors say this could be caused by unequal access to screenings and insurance, leaving black women more vulnerable to this disease. The mortality rate of black women jumped from 5.7 per 100,000 to 10.1 per 100,000 women, while the mortality rate for white women went from 3.2 per 100,000 to 4.7 per 100,000.
Medical experts around the world agree―no woman should die of cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine and pap smears are proven ways to Stop Cancer Before It Starts!® Equal access to health education and care are critical to reducing the number of women diagnosed with cervical cancer, which disproportionately affects minority populations. Fully funding programs such as the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provide grants to organizations educating underserved communities, can increase access to health education and preventive health care.
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, so use your voice to make sure your friends and family receive the care they need to prevent cervical cancer. You can also join our advocacy team to take action on important health care legislation to help everyone in this country access preventive or lifesaving care. To learn more about HPV’s role in cervical cancer, visit thinkaboutthelink.org.