Why Black women need to be screened for cervical cancer
Editor’s note: January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Consider sharing this article to educate others about the importance of cervical cancer screening.
By Deb Balzer
While all women can develop cervical cancer, non-Hispanic Black women are more likely to be diagnosed and die of cervical cancer, compared to white women in the U.S.
This disparity is not due to genetic differences among white, Black or Hispanic women, but rather related to systemic racism, access to health care, and socioeconomic factors, says Olivia Cardenas-Trowers, M.D., a Mayo Clinic urogynecologist. That is why she encourages women to learn more about this often-avoidable cancer and get screened, usually starting at 21 for average-risk women.
Watch this "Mayo Clinic Minute" video to hear Dr. Cardenas-Trowers discuss the importance of cervical cancer screening:
Screening for cervical cancer often starts with a Pap smear.
"Cervical cancer is diagnosed with tissue sampling, so like with a biopsy, but abnormal cells can be picked up with a screening exam like a Pap smear, which can lead to being able to diagnose cervical cancer," says Dr. Cardenas-Trowers.
Early stage cervical cancer may produce no distinct symptoms, making these regular screenings lifesaving.
"It's really in later-stage cervical cancer, where you can see things like abnormal vaginal bleeding and pain, in general, or with intercourse," says Dr. Cardenas-Trowers.
The biggest risk factor for developing cervical cancer — HPV infection — can be prevented with a vaccine.
"There is a vaccine out there that can be given as early as 9 years old and up to 45 years old. It is very important to know it's not only for women, but actually also for men," says Dr. Cardenas-Trowers.
Access to health care and establishing trust is essential to help reduce the cervical cancer mortality rate for Black women, says Dr. Cardenas-Trowers. Her advice for all women is to establish care with a primary care provider, undergo the recommended screening, and get the HPV vaccine for yourself if you're eligible and for your children.
Learn more about cervical cancer and find a cervical cancer clinical trial at Mayo Clinic.
Join the Gynecological Cancers Support Group on Mayo Clinic Connect.
Also read these articles:
- "4 ways to reduce cervical cancer risk."
- "Mayo Clinic experts answer 4 questions about gynecologic cancer."
- "Dear Mayo Clinic: Adults up to age 45 and at risk for HPV infection can get vaccine."
A version of this article was originally published on the Mayo Clinic News Network.
Dr. Cardenas-Trowers explains the barriers women of color must overcome to ensure they receive screening for cervical cancer.
Dr. Tri Dinh explains why both the HPV test and the Pap test are important screening tools for cervical cancer.
Dr. Aakriti Carrubba explains how to help teens maintain gynecological health, including the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer screening.