About 2,000 African American women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Nearly half of that group die from the disease. Cervical cancer doesn’t have a cure, but it is one of the most preventable types of cancer.
Black Women Are Disproportionately Impacted By Cervical Cancer
The rate of cervical cancer has declined in recent years in the United States, but health disparities continue. According to the American Cancer Society, Hispanic women have the highest rate of cervical cancer, followed by non-Hispanic Black women. Black women are more likely to die from the disease within 5 years of a diagnosis than women of any other race or ethnicity.
The reason Black women die of cervical cancer at higher rates is not soley because of genetics. Systemic racism and bias impact our care. Socioeconomic imbalances, lack of treatment and utilization of care, and mistrust of medical providers or medical establishments are some reasons Black women die at disproportionate rates. Things that were done to us are passed down through our genes and invoke anxiety and trauma that can impact our care.
Signs of Cervical Cancer
For many people, early cervical cancer shows no signs or symptoms which is why regular screening is so important. If found early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers. A person might develop symptoms only when cancer has become invasive and spreads to nearby tissue.
Common symptoms are:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Unusual bleeding following intercourse
- Pain during intercourse
- Intense pain after a pelvic exam
- Unusual vaginal discharge (separate from menstrual blood)
Cervical Cancer Prevention
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that those with a cervix begin getting regular screenings at the age of 21 or when they begin to be sexually active, no matter the person’s age. An annual Pap test is the screening that detects almost all precancerous cells catching them before they become life-threatening.
Request a pap at your annual visit to ensure you are being screened.
Staying on track with your recommended vaccination schedule could help prevent cancer and could be the difference between life and death for many of us.
Because we know that cervical cancer is most often caused by the genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, getting the HPV vaccine is recommended. It is an effective way to protect from this and several types of life-threatening cancers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends routine HPV vaccination for all adolescents between the ages of 9 and 12 years. For many adolescents in this age group, puberty is underway and menstruation begins. HPV is spread by intimate skin-to-skin contact and many adolescents begin experimenting with various forms of sexual activities that contribute to the rapid spread of the virus.
The HPV vaccine has been found safe in most studies with the most common side effects including soreness or redness at the injection site.
If you’re not of recommended age or have chosen not to be vaccinated, there are steps you can take to keep yourself safe. HPV spreads through all forms of sexual contact including vaginal, anal, and oral. Use a condom every time you have sex and abstain from smoking. Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer.
Establishing a trusted relationship with a provider like a nurse practitioner, midwife, doula, or physician gives you a great chance at prevention and successful treatment.
Additionally, focusing on stress management, a healthy diet, and an increase in mind/body awareness can help with prevention.
Cervical Cancer Resources
For more information about cervical cancer, visit The American Cancer Society.
Kelli recommends checking out The Mayo Clinic Q&A Podcast for an informative conversation about the link between racial disparities and cervical cancer.
Find more facts on cervical cancer prevention @maehealthinc on Instagram.
Kelli Blinn is an Ohio-based Full Spectrum Doula and contributing writer for Mae. Learn more about Kelli at kelliblinn.com and on Instagram @doulakelliblinn.
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