Jan 26, 2024 - Health

Cervical cancer deaths rise among low-income Americans

The HPV vaccine has sharply reduced cervical cancer rates. Photo: JB Reed/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Women in low-income regions of the U.S. are experiencing significantly more cases and deaths from cervical cancer despite an overall decline of the disease, according to a new study in the International Journal of Cancer.

Why it matters: The existence of an effective and widely available vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) — the source of virtually all cervical cancers — makes the disparity all the more troubling, researchers say.

The big picture: That takeaway was underscored by another study, published Thursday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, which found no cases of cervical cancer detected in women born between 1988 and 1996 who'd received the HPV vaccine when they were 12 or 13 years old.

Details: A University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center-led research team found cervical cancer incidence was greatest among women in low-income regions of the U.S. in 2019, regardless of race or ethnicity. The highest overall incidence was in Hispanic women.

  • Cases of cervical cancers that spread to distant parts of the body saw the biggest uptick among white women in low-income regions, increasing by 4.4% annually since 2007. Deaths have also increased in this group.
  • Despite a declining incidence of cervical cancer among Black women, the study found the largest increase in deaths occurred in that cohort, at 2.9% annually since 2013.
  • The study was drawn from more than 119,000 cases in the National Cancer Institute's registry between 2000 and 2019 and factored county-level household incomes.

More research is needed to understand what's driving these trends, but the analysis suggests that factors could include poor screening or an increase in the number of women who can't follow up or treat precancerous lesions once they're detected.

What they're saying: "Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable," said co-senior author Jane Montealegre. "This continued upward trend calls for scaled-up efforts to eliminate disparities in cervical cancer prevention."

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