TIME Cancer

Rates of Cervical Cancer Are Underestimated, Study Says

A new report says rates of the cancer in black women and women in their 60s are understated because they include those who have had hysterectomies

Rates of cervical cancer are higher than previously reported, according to a new study, specifically among older women and black women.

Previous estimates put the rate of cervical cancer at 11.7 per 100,000 women, with prevalence peaking for women between ages 40 and 44. But most of those estimates included women who had hysterectomies, which removes the uterus and cervix, making it impossible for those women to get cervical cancer.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers published recalculations of cervical cancer rates in the journal Cancer. The researchers looked at the rates of hysterectomies and cervical cancer between 2000 and 2009. With these numbers, they were able to eliminate the women with hysterectomies from their calculations. They found that the cervical cancer incidence rate is actually 18.6 per 100,000 women.

The recalculations also found that cervical cancer prevalence actually peaked between ages 65 and 69. Black women were also at a greater risk compared to white women.

The new findings have notable implications for screening guidelines, since current recommendations say women with negative results can stop routine screening at age 65. But if cancer rates start to peak at 65, the researchers suggest regular check-ups should continue.

More research is needed to determine whether the rise in cervical cancer rates with age—as well as the risk disparity for black women—is due to problems with current screening guidelines or whether necessary precautions are not being taken when women are deemed at risk for cervical cancer. Since HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer, greater use of the HPV vaccine is also recommended.

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