January 26, 2017
by Sean Philpott-Jones, Chair, Bioethics Program of Clarkson University & Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
A Public Cervix Announcement
On Monday, just days after millions of women (and their allies) marched in political demonstrations, researchers reported a disturbing new finding that could affect the health and wellbeing of these protestors. In a study published in this month’s issue of the journal Cancer, scientists found that a woman’s risk of dying from cervical cancer was much higher than originally suspected.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide. It also has the fourth highest mortality rate. Approximately 13,000 cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed annually among American women. The number of women diagnosed with cervical cancer has decreased significantly over the past 40 years, largely due to widespread use of the Pap test (or smear) to screen for the presence of precancerous lesions on the cervix, but over 4,000 women still succumb to the disease every year.
Previously, health experts had used those numbers to estimate that cervical cancer killed approximately 5.7 of 100,000 black women and 3.2 of 100,000 white women in the US. That racial disparity in death rates is pretty stark, particularly when you consider rates of cervical cancer incidence and mortality among other racial and ethnic groups. For example, Latinas have even higher incidence rates than black women — Hispanic women in the US are more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer — but in recent years the death rate in this group has fallen to the point where it is similar to that of white women.