In the United States, overall rates of cervical cancer are falling. This sounds like a good thing, right? On one hand, it is good to see – although there is another part of this equation. While overall rates have fallen, rates of late-stage cervical cancer have continued to rise.
According to a report from NPR, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology sought to understand what was causing this increasing rate of Stage 4 cervical cancer. To do so, the researchers analyzed data that spanned from 2001-2018. They found that:
- In white women ages 40-44 located in the Southern states, rates of late-stage cervical cancer rose by 4.5% each year. Alternately, rates (on a national scale) increased by 1.3% yearly.
- Late-stage cervical cancer comes with a poor prognosis and 5-year survival rate of around 17%. Thus, it is incredibly important for women to be screened (via Pap smears and HPV tests) at least every 3 years, or more often if any issues arise.
- Black women have the highest rates of late-stage cervical cancer compared to white women.
So why have rates risen so rapidly? Doctors hypothesize that this could be due, in part, to a lack of screening in younger populations, as well as the difficulties of accessing adequate care during the pandemic. The researchers encourage all women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s to continue routine screenings.
To learn more about this study and its findings, check out the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer.
What is Cervical Cancer?
As its name suggests, cervical cancer begins in the cells of the cervix, which connects the uterus and the vagina. A majority of cervical cancer cases are caused by high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV). Having regular screenings with your gynecologist can help you find, treat, or even prevent developing this cancer. Additional risk factors include diethylstilbestrol exposure, early sexual activity or having many sexual partners, smoking cigarettes, or having a weakened immune system. Cervical cancer is often asymptomatic in early stages. As the cancer progresses, symptoms can include pelvic pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during sex, and bloody, bad-smelling, or watery discharge.