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Black Women Are Dying of Cervical Cancer at a Disproportionally High Rate

People logo People 2022-02-01 Julie Mazziotta

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Black women are dying of cervical cancer at a disproportionally higher rate than white women, a new study finds.

Cervical cancer, which typically develops from human papillomavirus (HPV), is highly preventable and one of the more treatable cancers. When it's caught early, the five-year survival rate is 90% — but for many Black women, cervical cancer goes undetected.

According to a joint report from the Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative for Economic and Social Justice (SRBWI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), Black women are far more likely to have a late-stage diagnosis of cervical cancer, and more likely to die from the disease than any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S.

That disparity is particularly apparent in comparison to white women — Black women are nearly 1.5 times more likely to die of cervical cancer. The researchers highlighted the state of Georgia, where they found that Black women are more likely to never have been screened for cervical cancer, are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease at a later stage and have a lower five-year survival rate.

"Although almost no one should die from the disease, some groups — those that are historically marginalized and neglected in the US, including women of color, women living in poverty, and those without health insurance — die more often than others," the researchers said.

The differences in cervical cancer survival rates "reflect exclusion from the healthcare system and unequal access to the information, interventions, and services necessary to prevent and treat the disease."

The researchers point to unequal access to "adequate and affordable" health care as one of the main causes of the higher rates of late-stage diagnoses and deaths, which they say "represent a failure of the federal, state, and local governments to protect and promote human rights for all people."

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In Georgia in particular, more than 255,000 residents "have no options for affordable health care," they said.

"Without a comprehensive plan to guarantee access to consistent and affordable health care, the state has left low-income and uninsured Georgian women — who are more likely to be Black — struggling to navigate gaps in health insurance coverage and enormous financial barriers to cervical cancer care."

To prevent cervical cancer, regular OB-GYN appointments and pap smears to check for HPV are essential. In an op-ed for NBC News published Monday, singer Ciara — who said that a member of her team was diagnosed with cervical cancer early on thanks to a screening — urged Black women to schedule their checkups now.

"We have it within us to help protect ourselves from cervical cancer. And when we do, we can embrace the fullness of who we are. We can actualize the purest form of self-love and reflect our truth: As Black women, we are in charge of our stories," she wrote.

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