While the majority of BHI initiatives take place in the developing world, cervical cancer is also a concern of women in the United States, especially Latina and Black women. According to the Center for Disease Control, every year around 12,000 women in the US will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 will die. However, both the number of newly diagnosed cases and cancer deaths arehigher among minority women.
This graph clearly shows that Black and Hispanic women are more likely to be diagnosed with and die from cervical cancer than women of other ethnicities.
WHY? There is no biological reason why minority women should have higher rates of cervical cancer. Instead, low screening rates observed among Hispanic women living in the United States reflect the high cervical cancer rates seen in Latin American countries.
In Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela, mortality rates for cervical cancer are over 15 per 100,000 women, compared to 4/100,000 in the US.
Studies have shown that differences in cervical cancer mortality and incidence rates are due to a myriad of factors, including lack of health insurance,language barriers, and socio-cultural factors, among others.
Haitian women living in Miami have been shown to have a high risk of cervical cancer mortality largely due to lack of access to and utilization of cervical cancer screening.
Authors of this paper found that Haitian women described health as the lack of symptoms of sickness. This is especially important for cervical cancer, which often has no symptoms at early stages, and is most easily treated in early stages. Because women didn’t feel sick, they felt no reason to go to the doctor. Furthermore, the women interviewed most often went to the doctor once they started to experience symptoms that were bothersome enough to interfere with bodily ability, not for preventative treatment and screening.
Because these women did not seek preventative care and screening, they are at a higher risk for developing cervical cancer. Remember, it is important to undergo regular cervical cancer screening, which will check for the presence for abnormal cells. Destroying precancerous lesions on the cervix is one way to help prevent cancer from eventually forming.
Women also did not distinguish between uterine and cervical cancer and thought both were caused by a lack of feminine hygiene, which caused infections and ultimately cancer. This study shows that women need to be better informed about cervical cancer and HPV in order to lower mortality rates.
In another study of Mexican, Honduran and Puerto Rican women in the South, researchers found that Latinas had higher rates of cervical cancer mortality and also presented with more advanced stages of cancer than white women. The Hispanic women in this study were also more likely to be uninsured and without access to a regular healthcare provider than the white women.
This study also noted that awareness of HPV and the HPV vaccine was higher among white and Puerto Rican women than among Mexican and Honduran women.
This table is from a great paper by Luque et al. While it shows that all women had a recent pap smears with approximately the same frequency, fewer Hispanic women than white women had heard of HPV, thought it was transmitted through sexual activity and thought the HPV vaccine was an effective way to prevent HPV infection. Increasing what women know about HPV and cervical cancer may be one way to increase regular cervical cancer screening and ultimately lower cervical cancer mortality rates.
To learn more about cervical cancer among minority women, visit http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/statistics/ which has a ton of great information on cervical cancer and HPV.
And don’t forget, it is still cervical cancer awareness month for a few more days! Spread the word about the importance of cervical cancer screening, and while you’re at it, BHI! Here’s a video we put together about the work we’re doing.
Until next time,
Emma for BHI