The mortality rate from cervical cancer is higher than previously estimated and the disparity in death rates between blacks and whites is much wider than previously thought, a recently-published study in the medical journal Cancer revealed.
The study showed the mortality rate for black women was 10.1 per 100,000, compared to 4.7 for white women. In previous studies, the rate was 5.7 for black women and 3.2 for white women.
The new rates re-examined existing numbers in an adjusted context and do not reflect a rise in the number of deaths. More than 4,000 women die each year from the highly preventable cancer.
Death rates for cervical cancer are typically determined by measuring the number of women who die from the disease against the population at risk for it. For this study, women who have had hysterectomies were excluded from the general population as the cervix is usually removed, eliminating the possibility to develop cervical cancer.
“A larger study should be done to make sure there are truly increased incidents in African-American women,” said Dr. Angela Marshall, president and CEO of a D.C.-area women’s primary care practice.
Marshall, who also sits on the board of Black Women’s Health Imperative, an organization dedicated to improving the health and wellness of black women, said black women get hysterectomies at a much higher rate than white women, and removing that population could skew the numbers to result in a higher overall mortality rate.
The study did not suggest reasons for the racial disparity, but Marshall said that several factors, including access to preventative care, play a role. A study in the journal Gynecologic Oncology found that more than half of patients with advanced cervical cancer did not receive adequate treatment considered to be standard of care, and they were mostly black and low-income.
“It’s important to remind people women about the practice of safe sex, especially when you have a cancer caused by a sexually transmitted virus,” Marshall said, referring to the human papillomavirus, or HPV. “We need better education about the virus and its transmission.”
Alongside education, she said women should get preventative HPV testing, in addition to Pap smears according to American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists standards. Marshall said getting the HPV vaccine, which helps prevent some cases of cervical cancer, is also important, though “it may be less accepted in the African-American community.”
Marshall said the disparity stands to grow amid efforts to defund organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the attempted repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which mandated at least one form of FDA-approved methods of birth control be covered without cost-sharing.
“I think defunding organizations like Planned Parenthood would have a negative impact on low- and moderate-income women,” Marshall said. “I think people will literally die because they don’t have access to care. I think the repercussions will be severe.”