Black Women at Greater Risk of Cervical CancerJan 06, 2021 08:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
The United States Congress designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in 2018, an estimated 570 000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide and about 311 000 women died from the disease. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, more than 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer each year.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cervix. The cervix is a hollow cylinder that connects the lower part of the uterus to the vagina and most cervical cancers begin in cells on the surface of the cervix. The most common type of cervical cancer is squamous cell carcinoma but, most cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). When found early during regular screening through a papanicolaou test (pap smear), treatment is generally effective.
Many women with cervical cancer don’t realize they have cervical cancer early on, because it usually doesn’t cause symptoms until the late stages. When the symptoms do appear, they’re usually mistaken as symptoms of a period or a urinary tract infection (UTIs). Typical cervical cancer symptoms are:
- unusual bleeding, such as in between periods, after sex, or after menopause
- vaginal discharge that looks or smells different than usual
- pain in the pelvis
- needing to urinate more often
- pain during urination
Although cervical cancer affects women of all races, Black women are at a greater risk of contracting HPV-related cervical cancer due to factors such as lack of awareness and lack of availability to screening. Sadly, this means that Black women are more likely to present with advanced cervical cancer than non-Hispanic white women.
Black women are also at a higher risk of dying of cervical cancer. A 2017 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research found that Black women in the U.S had been dying from cervical cancer at a rate of 77% higher than previously thought. “It isn’t clear why older and black women are dying of cervical cancer at higher rates,” said Dr. Anne F. Rositch, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. Another 2017 study published in the American Cancer Society Journals found that Black women tend to present with cervical cancer at a more advanced stage of the disease, and disparities in not only treatment but screening exists.
Cervical cancer has four main treatments which are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy
targeted therapy such as brachytherapy. A 2019 study published in Gynecologic Oncology suggested that brachytherapy may help survival outcomes for Black women with cervical cancer but sadly, the access to brachytherapy for Black women is limited. Increased access to not only this treatment but increased awareness of causes, signs, and symptoms of cervical cancer is important in ensuring that Black women survive cervical cancer and possibly prevent getting this treatable disease.
Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.
She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.