Health & Fitness

Here’s what to know about your cervical cancer risk

A study released Monday reveals women are dying from cervical cancer at a rate considerably higher than experts previously believed.

A study released Monday in the journal Cancer reveals women are dying from cervical cancer at a rate considerably higher than experts previously believed. The lapse in information is the result of including women in previous studies who have had hysterectomies. When a woman’s cervix is removed in a hysterectomy procedure, the risk for developing cervical cancer is also removed.

This information is important, particularly for women of color. Click To Tweet

This information is important, particularly for women of color. Cervical cancer has been observed to affect women of color more than white women. Although the disease occurs most frequently in Hispanic women, black women have the highest mortality rate. The Black Women’s Health Imperative calls cervical cancer the “Other” cancer, referencing its racial targeting.

The new research finds black women are dying at a rate of 77% higher than prior data recorded. For white women, the rate increased 47%.

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Before the adjustment, the data showed that the cervical cancer killed about 5.7 out of 100,000 black women and 3.2 per 100,000 white women. After adjusting for hysterectomies, the rate was 10.1 per 100,000 black women and 4.7 per 100,000 white women.

Cervical cancer is one of the more preventable types of cancer. With regular Pap smears, the disease can be identified early, monitored and treated with high recovery rates. Most cervical cancer deaths occur among women who have never been screened or have not been screened in the past five years. This is because women in the early stages of cervical cancer often experience little to no symptoms.

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Regular screenings are proven to save lives. But like any medical procedure, it comes with a cost. The economic toll it places on women, and particularly young women who have the sense of being invincible, often explains why women abstain from regular screenings. But the time to take preventative measures for the sake of your health is now. Especially for women of color. Social determinants have been speculated to contribute to the growing cervical health care disparities between black women and others, and more black women are dying as a result.

“Racial disparity may be explained by lack of access or limited access to cervical cancer screening programs among black women when compared to whites,” said Dr. Marcela del Carmen, a gynecologic oncologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.

Women of color are most at risk of dying from cervical cancer and women 30 and older are most at risk for developing cervical cancer in the first place, but all women should regularly undergo cancer screenings beginning at age 21. This is a change from the previous standard set by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which recommended women begin screenings 3 years after they first become sexually active.

Even if you choose not to be vaccinated, regular pap smears can detect abnormal cells. Click To Tweet

Vaccination can also prevent deaths caused by cervical cancer. Many women develop cervical cancer after contracting genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV can also result in cancers of other body parts involved in sexual activity, namely the anus, vagina, throat, vulva and penis. Getting vaccinated against HPV is one of the most proactive ways to combat cervical cancer. Even if you choose not to be vaccinated, regular pap smears can detect abnormal cells caused by HPV, so they can be treated before they become cancerous.

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Once the cancer spreads and starts attacking nearby cell tissue, common symptoms to take notice of include abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge from the vagina, and pain or bleeding during/after intercourse.

This newfound information about cervical cancer is scary, but it also means medical professionals are better equipped to inform patients and search for cures. But it’s not just up to them.

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CNN recently reported that women’s cancer deaths are expected to increase 60% worldwide by 2030. The World Cancer Congress presented a report in early November 2016 highlighting the biggest jump in deaths are expected to come from low-and-middle income countries.

Scientists are fighting “the good fight” against cancer, but we as women have a responsibility to do everything we can to not become another sad statistic.

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Corinne Osnos

Corinne Osnos

Editorial Fellow Corinne Osnos is an aspiring journalist with a BA from the University of Southern California. She'd list off her major(s) and minor(s) but that's too much of a mouthful and Humanities pretty much covers it. Corinne loves engaging in philosophical debates about everything Freud to Foucault but spends more time with cats than humans on a daily basis.

We're ready to shake things up, for the better.