Black Women & Cervical Cancer – The “Other” Cancer

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:


Cervical Cancer News

Published Friday, January 7, 2011
Girls really do care what their moms think, even once they're all grown up. That's the message that a new study is conveying after researchers found that college-age women are more likely to report getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine if they'd discussed it with their mothers. "We didn't actually look at what they said, but what we do know is more»
Published Monday, June 14, 2010
Though current cervical cancer screening guidelines generally recommend that women ages 30 and older get screened — either using a traditional pap smear or a complement of a pap smear and human papillomavirus testing — every 2 to 3 years instead of annually, a new survey published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine finds that most physicians more»
Published Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Two studies out this week indicate that human papillomavirus (HPV) screening may be a more effective way than conventional pap smears to identify pre-cancerous cells, enabling women to intercept cervical dysplasia before it potentially develops into cancer. A study of more than 58,000 women between the ages of 30 to 60 participating in a routine cervical more»
Published Sunday, March 28, 2010
According to South Carolina's "Greeneville Online" African American women in the Southern State have a 37 percent higher chance of having cervical cancer than white women and are more likely to die from the disease. SC ranks 14th among the US in cervical cancer deaths and displays major gaps in health. "Women of color, women living in rural areas and women more»
Published Sunday, March 28, 2010
STI is one of the scariest acronyms out there. Along with the phrase "sexually transmitted infections" comes thoughts of discomfort, shame and fear. But as sexually active adults, we have to realize that "you can never say safe sex, you can only say safer sex," says Dr. Liana Clarke, a specialist in vaccination for HPV, or the Human Papiloma Virus. HPV is more»
Published Sunday, March 28, 2010
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Black women with advanced and recurrent cervical cancer tolerate "platinum-based" chemotherapy drugs better than do their white counterparts, according to a pooled data from three studies, researchers report. Dr. Steven C. Plaxe of the University of California, San Diego and colleagues examined data on a total of 374 white and more»
Published Thursday, April 2, 2009
With the right test, a single round of screening can decrease the risk of death from cervical cancer by more than 50%, according to research published in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The large, longitudinal study, conducted in nearly 500 villages in the rural Osmanabad district of central India, analyzed the effectiveness of more»
Published Monday, May 7, 2007
Tamika Felder had no health insurance, and hadn't visited a gynecologist in two years, but when she finally went, she thought her doctor would give her the typical speech about needing to lose weight or being mindful of hypertension, but the doctor told her otherwise. "She said, 'It looks like you have carcinoma,'" Felder told JET, explaining that the more»
Published Thursday, November 23, 2006
I came home to find my mother sitting on the couch doubled over in pain, pain bad enough to bring tears to her eyes. “I’ve been bleeding for over two weeks now. It won’t stop, and now I’m passing clots and big as my fist.” “Mama! You need to go see a doctor.” “I’m not going to no damn doctor! I don’t need nobody poking around on me.” My mother was a more»