A new study by University of South Carolina’s researchers indicates that South Carolina’s African-American women are 37 percent more likely to have cervical cancer than white women. That study appears in this month’s issue of the Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association and says black women have a death rate from cervical cancer which is 61 percent higher than white women.
Study co-author Dr. Heather Brandt says although cervical cancer deaths nationwide have dropped 75 percent since the Pap test was first introduced for screening, not all women have benefited equally from advancements in screening.
“Women not benefiting from the gains we’ve seen include women of color, women living in rural areas, immigrant women, those living in poverty,” says Brandt. “These are populations that we really need to pay attention to.”
South Carolina ranks 14th in the nation for cervical cancer deaths.
Dr. Brandt says getting Pap test are important to avoid the disease, but she says just as important are the follow-up checks to assure that the changes observed in the tissue don’t develop into cervical cancer. “But there are certainly issues connected to follow-up care,” she says. “There is a cost. And it takes time. And we know women lead busy lives. It’s making them a priority that’s important.”
Dr. Brandt says it’s important for women to receive cervical screening, beginning by age 21(or sooner if they have sexual contact), and then once every year, until age 30, then every two to three years after that. But she says along with the standard smear test, there is a new liquid test that is only required every two years before age 30.
Brandt says vaccines are now available, that are commonly given to girls, to reduce their chance of getting cervical cancer. But she says the vaccine has now been approved for boys, to prevent men from becoming spreaders of the disease.
Dr. Brandt says leaders in some states are moving toward mandatory HPV vaccinations to reduce the chance of various cancers.
Among the findings reported in the journal:
• S.C. women who did not receive a Pap test were more likely to be over age 65, unmarried, have less than a high-school education and be from a non-Hispanic race group, including African Americans.
• Nearly one-fourth of women not receiving a Pap test lacked healthcare coverage and nearly 20 percent were unable to see a healthcare provider because of costs.
• A telephone survey of African-American and white women found that about half of the study’s 1,002 respondents had “high” levels of knowledge about the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted infection that has been linked to cervical cancer. However, African-American women knew less about the virus than white women.
• A study of young women, ages 14 to 20, found that about 34 percent would not get the HPV vaccine because of cost.
• A study on the Upstate Witness Project, which addresses breast cancer and cervical cancer among African-American women, found that training “witnesses” and lay health advisers to be an effective method to reach women. The program was tested in African-American churches in Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson and Pickens counties.
• A study of Latina women in South Carolina found that very few understood the purpose of the Pap test. Most Latina women sought healthcare for prenatal services.