The “OTHER” Cancer and Black women
Cervical cancer affects more than 11,000 women worldwide annually. Of the close to 2,000 Black women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, over 40 percent will die. This is unacceptable. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer, and women can be screened for it with routine Pap tests. Despite this fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is now recommending women begin cervical cancer screening at age 21, instead of 3 years after the onset of sexual activity, as was previously recommended by the group. Cervical cancer is almost always caused by genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV can also lead to cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, throat and penis.
Why is this Important to Black Women?
Based on surveys conducted by the Black Women’s Health Imperative (Imperative), we found that a majority of Black women are familiar with certain facts about cervical cancer –how it is caused and that it is preventable. Yet we are still dying at a disproportionately higher rate. Although cervical cancer occurs most often in Hispanic women, Black women tend to have lower 5-year survival rates and die more often than any other race. In fact, Black women have twice the cervical cancer mortality rate compared to white women.
While the Imperative, like ACOG, encourages women to be informed about the risks and benefits of any procedure, the fact remains that most cervical cancer deaths occur among women who have never been screened or have not been screened in the past five years. While we share ACOG’s concerns on the affects of overtreatment and the social and economic toll they may place on women, particularly young women, we also know that screening and early detection are critical components in eliminating these disparate health outcomes for Black women and other women of color.
What Black Women Need to Know
Cervical cancer may be prevented through the HPV vaccine or treated if detected early by a regular Pap test. If abnormal cells caused by HPV are found while they are still pre-cancerous, they can be treated before they progress into cancer. This is why it's important for all women to have a regular Pap test, and for women 30 and older (the group most at risk) to routinely be tested for HPV as well.
If it is detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers which is why it is important to know and understand the risk factors for developing cervical cancer. Please refer to our Cervical Cancer & Black Women Fact Sheet, click here. Early cervical cancer generally shows no signs or symptoms. This is why regular screening is so important. A woman may develop symptoms only when the cancer has become invasive and spreads to nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptoms are: abnormal vaginal bleeding; unusual discharge from the vagina (separate from your normal menstrual period); bleeding following intercourse, douching, or after a pelvic exam; and pain during intercourse.
What the Imperative is Doing
The Imperative supports Black women in knowing and understanding all the important facts related to this deadly but preventable cancer. Through our efforts we strive to ensure that screening and treatment guidelines are designed to meet the specific needs of Black women and that they are responsive to the trends we are seeing in cervical cancer rates among Black women.
Our work strives to achieve health equity in access, early detection and timely diagnosis and treatment by:
To learn more about our specific programs, click here.
What Black Women Can Do
The American Cancer Society recommends that: