Black women are dying at “twice the rate as white women in the United States,” says Johns Hopkins study.

A new study conducted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health indicates more clearly the racial disparity in cervical cancer deaths.

A disease more prominent in countries with less medical advancement, cervical cancer kills Black women in the United States at a rate 77 percent higher than previously thought, and white women are dying at a rate 47 percent higher, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

Previous research that calculated cervical cancer mortality rates included data on women who’ve had hysterectomies.  And, researchers state “one in five women in the United States have had a hysterectomy, with the number slightly higher in Black women than white women.”

When removing from national death certificate data the proportion of women who had a hysterectomy, the cervical cancer mortality rate among Black women over the age of 20 jumped from 5.7 to 10.1 deaths per 100,000 individuals per year — a rate similar to less developed nations. The rate for white women increased from 3.2 to 4.7 deaths per 100,000 individuals per year.

The new research, which was published in the journal “Cancer” on Monday, doesn’t mean that more women are dying from cervical cancer in the U.S. But it shows that previous studies underestimated the racial disparity in death rates between Black and white women by 44 percent.

In addition, researchers found that many women who are dying of cervical cancer are over the age of 65 — the age that is a cutoff point where guidelines no longer recommend women with cervixes be screened for that form of cancer.

Cervical cancer is preventable with routine screenings. Physicians can detect changes in the cervix before cancer develops with a routine Pap smear. They also can spot the cancer early when it’s still in its most curable stage. The HPV vaccine is available for girls ages 9 to 13 to combat two of the most common cancer-causing strains.

“This is a preventable disease, and women should not be getting it, let alone dying from it,” Anne Rositch, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins, said in a statement. 

“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.”

Cervical cancer is rare in the U.S., where there are 12,000 cases each year and around 4,000 deaths. It is a disease that is more common in the developing world.

“Worldwide, more than 500,000 women are diagnosed each year and more than 200,000 die,” according to researchers.

Despite the modern medical technology in the U.S., older and Black women are still dying from cervical cancer. The study does not indicate a specific reason why but does discuss racial disparity in health care.

“While trends over time show that the racial disparities gap has been closing somewhat, these data emphasize that it should remain a priority area,” Rositch said. “Black women are dying of cervical cancer at twice the rate as white women in the United States and we need to put in place measures to reverse the trend.”

According to previous research, Black women are more likely to have their cervical cancer caught at a later stage of diagnosis and may receive different treatment than white women.

“One study found that Black women had 50-percent lower odds of receiving surgery and 50-percent higher odds of receiving radiation compared to white women with the same stage and insurance,” researchers stated.

Black women and older women who endure economic hardship don’t have access to basic health screening because of cost, their location or the necessary health insurance, which the Affordable Care Act (ACA) aimed to make accessible.

During his first day in office on Friday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies must “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” any portions of the ACA deemed to create financial burden on states, individuals or health care providers.

It’s the first sign of the Trump administration scaling back former President Barack Obama’s administration’s health care regulations.

The Johns Hopkins study also discusses that because Black women are more susceptible to uterine fibroids, which can cause symptoms requiring surgery, they are more likely to have hysterectomies, and at younger ages, compared to white women.

A report released by the Environmental Working Group in December found that approximately 1,177 beauty products marketed to Black women contain more potentially harmful ingredients than products promoted to the general public. Potential hazards linked to product ingredients include cancer.

The American Journal of Epidemiology released a study in 2012, “Hair Relaxer Use and Risk of Uterine Leiomyomata in African-American Women,” which linked the product to uterine fibroids, as well as early puberty in young girls.

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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