A Cervical Cancer Wake-Up Call

Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 1:59pm

A new study has sounded the alarm about the impact of cervical cancer on women of color. According to the study, published in the journal Cancer, the death toll among African-American women is similar to that of women living in poor, developing countries.

“The gap in incidence and death rates from cervical cancer based on racial disparities is a wake-up call, a call to action,” says Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, Deputy Director at Roswell Park, Chair of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Executive Director of the Center for Immunotherapy.

The findings are particularly alarming because cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that can be prevented, and, when diagnosed early, is treatable. So, what can women do in response to this study?

Get Screened

The Pap test (or Pap smear) can find precancerous cells that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. This test is recommended for women every 3 years, beginning at age 21. At age 30, women should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every 5 years. Women over the age of 65 do not need to be screened unless they have been diagnosed with precancerous cells of the cervix. Learn more about the latest cervical cancer screening guidelines.

Boys and girls ages 9 to 26 should be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine could prevent cervical cancer and other diseases caused by the Human Papillomavirus. Unfortunately, many adolescents and young adults are not taking this life-saving step. At Roswell Park, we are talking with doctors and parents to find ways to increase HPV vaccination and reduce the risk of disease.

Dr. Odunsi goes on to say, “With the availability of HPV vaccination, combined with regular pap smears, cancer of the cervix is largely a preventable disease. Specific efforts are urgently needed to address the disparities found in this study.”

Educate and Advocate

Men and women alike need to advocate for HPV vaccination for their children and help to educate those around them. Community outreach and education is a key facet of the Roswell Park mission. Through an innovative culturally-sensitive program called the Witness Project of Buffalo and Niagara, which has been based at Roswell Park since 2006, we are working toward greater awareness, access to services and compliance with screening guidelines among the populations that this new study confirms needs it most.

Dr. Odunsi adds, “At Roswell Park, we have a robust cancer prevention and screening program that promotes access for all people, regardless of race or economic status.”