Cervical cancer rates much higher than we thought

Women’s risk of dying from cervical cancer may be much higher than previously thought, according to a new study; the numbers are alarming, particularly for black women.

The study, published Monday in the Cancer journal, suggests that prior studies underestimated cervical cancer rates because they included women who have had hysterectomies (which usually involves the removal of both uterus and cervix) and were no longer at risk for cervical cancer. By removing those women from the calculation, the death rates increased.

The study found that black women in America are dying from cervical cancer at 77 percent higher rate than previous estimates, while white women are dying at a 47 percent higher rate. The new rates are also higher for women over 65.

Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, a gynecologic oncologist who is the executive associate dean for Academic Affairs at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM), is not surprised by the findings. She and many other experts believe the disparity in incidence rates is partly due to lack of access to screening and treatment.

“Cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease with screening (Pap smear) and now the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine, “ Runowicz says. “But many women do not have access. Sometimes it is because they don’t have insurance, or they don’t have transportation. They can’t take time off from work. Or they don’t have someone to look after their child or an elderly relative in their care.”

Carolyn Runowicz, M.D.

One of four HWCOM mobile health centers.

Those are just some of the social determinants of health the HWCOM is addressing through its community outreach program, the Green Family Foundation Neighborhood Health Education Learning Program (NeighborhoodHELP). The program runs four mobile health centers that bring health education and primary care and behavioral health services to underserved communities in Miami-Dade County.

“Bringing the services into the community allows easier access to health care for the underserved women in our community,” Runowicz says.

January is cervical cancer awareness month. Every year more than 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer, and about 4,000 die from it. Click here to learn more about preventing cervical cancer.