Cervical-cancer death rates in the United States are much higher than previously believed, particularly among black and older women, a new study found. The numbers may have been skewed in the past because calculations included women who have had hysterectomies — a procedure in which the cervix is usually removed, eliminating the disease’s risk.
With routine screening, cervical cancer can be preventable — and currently, there are 12,000 cases of the disease in the U.S. each year, as well as 4,000 deaths. Yet, as published in the journal Cancer, scientists from Johns Hopkins University found that the cervical-cancer death rates in black women in the U.S. rival those of women in developing countries, when you take women with a history of hysterectomies out of the equation. The newly calculated disparities among black and white women are shockingly high: The death rate in black women is 77 percent higher than previously thought, and only 47 percent higher in white women.
The researchers noted that excluding women who have had hysterectomies makes a “sizable difference” because 1 in 5 women in the U.S. have had the procedure — and black women are more likely to have one than white women. In past research, the cervical-cancer death rates for those over the age of 20 was 5.7 per 100,000 per year for black women and 3.2 per 100,000 for white women. The new rates have jumped to 10.1 per 100,000 black women and 4.7 per 100,000 white women. But as the New York Timesnotes, this doesn’t mean there has been a rise in the number of deaths — the finding just reflects adjusted numbers.
Additionally, because current guidelines don’t call for routine screenings for cervical cancer over the age of 65, older women may be dying of the disease at a higher rate than previously thought, as well. “These data tell us that as long as a woman retains her cervix, it is important that she continue to obtain recommended screening for cervical cancer since the risk of death from the disease remains significant well into older age,” study author Dr. Anne F. Rositch said in a statement.