New study reveals startling data on cervical cancer mortality rates — especially among black women

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Cervical cancer is significantly deadlier than medical professionals once thought — especially for black women. 

According to a new study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the mortality rate for black women with cervical cancer is 77% higher than past research has suggested. Meanwhile, white women with the disease are dying at a rate 47% higher rate than previously calculated.

The disparity resulted from the inclusion of women who've had hysterectomies in data on cervical cancer. According to the study, published in the journal Cancer, one in five U.S. women has had a hysterectomy, which usually involves the removal of the cervix along with the uterus. 

"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," said Anne F. Rositch, the study's lead author and an assistant professor in the epidemiology department at the Bloomberg School, according to EurekAlert

The new study underscores the importance of expanding reproductive health resources and getting tested for HPV regularly.
The new study underscores the importance of expanding reproductive health resources and getting tested for HPV regularly. Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

Excluding women without cervixes changed the mortality rates for black women, white women and older women. The uncorrected death rate for black women over the age of 20 was 5.7 deaths per 100,000 annually, which jumped to 10.1 per 100,000 when corrected for hysterectomy. For white women, the mortality rate increased to 4.7 from 3.2.

For black women over the age of 85, the corrected death rate was 37.2 for every 100,000 women. 

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cervical cancer screenings for women between the ages of 21 and 65 — but that cap would appear to be too low. According to Rositch, the study's findings suggest a woman should keep getting screened for as long as she "retains her cervix."

The researchers also highlight the need for increased access to affordable health care. The New York Times pointed to a study that found black and low-income women were significantly less likely than white women to receive standard of care treatment for locally advanced cervical cancer. Considering Congressional Republicans' plan to cut funding for Planned Parenthood — whose health centers primarily provide preventative services like cervical cancer screenings to low-income women and women of color — this is especially troubling.

"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."