Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of death among women in the U.S.–a lot higher than scientists previously thought, according to a new study published in the medical journal Cancer this past Monday. The disease is also killing far more black women than white women, which is troubling, as it indicates health care access disparities.
Researchers involved in the study discovered something scary: Black American women are dying as a result of cervical cancer at the same rate as women in developing countries—despite the fact that it’s a preventable type of cancer. For instance, between 2000 and 2012, the mortality rate for black women was 10.1 per 100,000. Conversely, it was only 4.7 per 100,000 for white women. While previous studies reported those numbers at 5.7 and 3.2 respectively, the rise in number of deaths may be misleading. Scientists believe that while the numbers don’t lie, they made need to be re-examined, as they don’t necessarily count women who had hysterectomies, don’t have cervixes, and are not seen at risk for the disease.
While the research itself doesn’t explain the reasons for the disparity, or why so many women get cervical cancer to begin with, Dr. Otis W. Brawley, the chief medical officer from the American Cancer Society, has some ideas. He explained how it definitely indicates unequal access to proper health care and treatment:
“When we look at the difference between black and white, and rich and poor, we find the same disparity. The quality of assessment and follow-up treatment can be different. The question becomes: how do we get adequate preventive care to all people?”
His question that he poses at the end is very real–and very scary–especially now. Everyone deserves equal access to health care–health care should not be a privilege, but a human right.