While cervical cancer remains one of the most highly preventable diseases in the U.S., some women may not realize they are at a higher risk of dying from the disease, according to researchers.
Research led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that African-American women are dying from cervical cancer at a rate 77 percent higher than previous reports indicate. And white women are dying at a rate 47 percent higher than may have been stated earlier.
What’s the reason for the higher rates? The major study excluded women who’ve had their cervix removed through a hysterectomy. Researchers say because these women are no longer susceptible to cervical cancer, the new estimates give a more accurate view of the number of women succumbing to the disease.
Despite the new report, the number of deaths from cervical cancer have declined overall by more than 50 percent over the last 40 years, and the number of new cases detected each year are remaining stable, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS) . Experts credit increased use of the Pap test for the number of lives being saved.
The ACS projects that about 13,800 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2020. And about 4,290 women will die from cervical cancer.
Some celebrities and other well-known women have shared publicly their experience with cervical cancer in an effort to increase awareness about the importance of early detection, including sportscaster Erin Andrews. When it’s found early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers, says the ACS.
Cervical Cancer Risk Factors
In 2016, the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ACOG) revised recommendations for cervical cancer screenings , lowering the age to begin at age 21, and earlier for women who are younger than 21 and infected with HIV.
Made by the ACOG’s Committee on Practice Bulletins – Gynecology, the recommendations now call for more frequent cervical cancer screening for women with certain risk factors, such as:
- HIV infection.
- Compromised immune systems.
- Exposure in utero to diethylstilbestrol – commonly know as DES – a synthetic estrogen prescribed between 1938 and 1971 to pregnant women to prevent miscarriages or other pregnancy problems.
- Previous treatment for abnormal cervical tissue or cancer.
The ACOG recommendations followed a report issued in late 2014 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stating that an estimated eight million American women aged 21 to 65 years hadn’t been screened for cervical cancer  in the past five years.
Additional significant statistics reported in CDC findings include:
- Women who have never or rarely been screened represent more than 50 percent of new cervical cancer cases.
- Proper screening and getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine are among factors that can help prevent up to 93 percent of cervical cancers.
- HPV viruses cause the most cervical cancers.
Cervical Cancer Prevention
“The pap test has proven to be one of the single best cervical cancer screening methods developed to date,” said Dr. Lambrou. “While the disease most commonly affects women in their ‘30s and then later in life, proper screening continues to enable us to identify younger women – as early as in their ‘20s – with pre-cancer and invasive cervical cancer. The best way for women to prevent a cervical cancer diagnosis is to be consistent with annual visits to their gynecologist and receive the screenings that can save their lives.”
January is recognized as Cervical Cancer Screening Month and Cervical Health Awareness Month, by the Foundation for Women’s Cancer  and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition  (NCCC), respectively. Public education efforts highlight recent advances and research in the prevention, detection and treatment of cervical cancer. Using hashtags such as #EndCervicalCancer and #CervicalHealthMonth, the organizations’ social media messages urge girls to get vaccinated against HPV early and women to receive regular Pap tests and HPV testing when recommended.