Cervical cancer a major concern for Black women

Twice as likely to die as Whites

Dr. Anisa Shomo NNPA Columnist | 2/28/2019, midnight

Many women do not know that a Pap smear is a cervical cancer screening and do not realize that HPV is a known risk factor. They also may believe that if they are no longer sexually active, they no longer need to be screened which may contribute to presenting with cervical cancer in the later stage. There was also discussion that women feared hysterectomy would be needed and they did not desire to have this performed so they avoided screening.

In 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology drastically changed the guidelines for cervical cancer screening. As of September 2017, the guidelines are:

Screening starting at age 21 with a Pap smear

Screening is now every three to five years with a Pap Smear and depending on age, HPV testing

HPV testing is recommended to start at age 30 but many physicians perform it at ages 21-29 with Pap smear

These changes have caused further confusion about the importance of cervical cancer and when a person’s next pap smear is due. This change occurred due to research demonstrating that yearly Pap smears were not better at decreasing cancer rates than when performed every three years. There was also concern about damaging the cervix with unnecessary procedures if screening too often.

The HPV vaccine has been FDA approved since 2006. It is currently recommended for use in all genders aged 11-26 and it was most recently approved to be extended for use up to age 45. The vaccine has been shown to be effective in preventing an estimated 90 percent of HPV related cancers. In 2015, the CDC studied the percent of women aged 19-26 who received at least one dose of the vaccine and it was found that African American women were 10-percent less likely to have started that vaccine.

Despite the many advances in cervical cancer screening, treatment, and prevention, African Americans women are more likely to be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer and death as a result of late diagnosis. Increased knowledge about the purpose of a Pap smear and how often it is needed, the new treatments available that may prevent need for hysterectomy, and the purpose of the HPV vaccine may help reduce this health disparity in the future.

For Black American women receiving updated information about how to prevent cervical cancer is a matter of life or death. If our Black families and communities are made more aware of the advantages of early detection and diagnosis concerning cervical cancer, the current disproportionate mortality rates for Black women with this health problem in America will be dramatically reduced.

Dr. Anisa Shomo is the director of Family Medicine Scholars at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio and is a health columnist for the NNPA. She can be reached at drshomoknows@gmail.com