The researchers found that black women in the United States are dying from cervical cancer at a rate 77 percent higher than previously thought while white women are dying at a rate 47 percent higher. The new figures reflect a change in how mortality rates are calculated. By excluding women who have had hysterectomies, which typically involves the removal of the cervix and therefore reduces the risk of developing cervical cancer to zero, the researchers say these data paint a more accurate picture of who is getting cervical cancer - and can be used to better understand how to prevent it.
Meanwhile, many of those who are dying are over the age of 65, a cutoff point where guidelines no longer recommend women with cervixes be regularly screened for cervical cancer. With routine screening, cervical cancer is preventable. In the United States, there are 12,000 cases of cervical cancer each year and around 4,000 deaths.
The findings, published Jan. 23 in the journal Cancer, highlight the need to understand the risks associated with cervical cancer in older and black women and determine both the best screening and treatment options for these women.
"This is a preventable disease and women should not be getting it, let alone dying from it," says study leader Anne F. Rositch, PhD, MSPH, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. "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. These findings motivate us to better understand why, despite the wide availability of screening and treatment, older and black women are still dying from cervical cancer at such high rates in the United States."
Excluding women with a history of a hysterectomy, something that has not been done in previous calculations, makes a sizable difference since one in five women in the United States have had a hysterectomy, with the number slightly higher in black women than white women. Current guidelines do not recommend cervical cancer screening after the age of 65, since it was believed that older women were at much less risk. These new findings suggest the risk remains - and even increases - in older women.