Minority Women Suffer Highest Rates of Cervical Cancer in California

While cervical cancer affects all races, Latinas and African Americans have the highest incidence and mortality rates across the nation.

Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer worldwide and is responsible for 4,000 deaths in the United States. Nearly 1,400 California women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 400 die from the disease each year.

Among California women, it is ranked the 7th most common cancer in the Latina and Vietnamese populations, 8th most common for Koreans, 9th for Filipinos and the 10th most common in the Japanese population.

The California Medical Association (CMA) Foundation has launched efforts to reduce these high numbers.  Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers that can easily be detected through an inexpensive pap screening and also prevented through a vaccine.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV.  Millions of American women are infected with HPV, but due to its often symptomless nature, a woman can be unaware of her risk of developing cervical cancer.

“With proven prevention methods, including the HPV vaccines, regular pap screenings, and stronger public awareness, we have a tremendous opportunity to do even more to curb the devastating effects of cervical cancer and eliminate this disease entirely,” said Carol Lee, Esq., president and CEO of the CMA Foundation.

According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention’s report, “Surveillance of Screening-Detected Cancers (Colon and Rectum, Breast, and Cervix) – United States, 2004-2006,” incidence rates of late-stage cervical cancer were highest among women aged 50-79 years and Hispanic women.

Mortality from cervical cancer is also caused by less access to preventive services, including infrequent or no pap screening and lack of follow-up.

CMA Foundation board member, Diana Ramos, MD, MPH stated, “NO woman should die from this preventable disease. An estimated 50 percent of women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States occur in women who have never had a Pap smear.

According to the National Committee for Quality Assurance, the costs of treating cervical cancer nationwide ranges from $300 to $400 million annually. Yet, cancer screenings are available free for low-income women through California’s federally funded “Every Woman Counts” program, among others.  For those who don’t qualify for free programs, the test costs, on average, $45, depending on where it is obtained and the scope of the exam. Each of the three HPV vaccine doses cost approximately $125, but they are often covered by insurance and the “Vaccines for Children” program.

At a recent Cervical Cancer and HPV Vaccine Summit, the CMA Foundation launched the California phase of a nationwide Cervical Cancer-Free campaign.  The Campaign aims to reduce the prevalence of cervical cancer through increased screening and vaccination. California’s campaign will focus on Latinas and other groups at greatest risk, those with continued high rates of cancer and low rates of screening and prevention. A comprehensive array of resources for physicians, other healthcare providers and consumers, including online clinical education resources and multilingual patient education materials has been developed and are available on the project’s website.

Additionally, Startup funding for the California Cervical Cancer Free Campaign is made possible by a grant from GlaxoSmithKline.  For more information about the campaign, please contact Sara Cook, Cervical Cancer and HPV Project Director, CMA Foundation, at scook@thecmafoundation.org.  For more information about the Foundation’s Cervical Cancer and HPV Project, visit www.thecmafoundation.org/projects/hpv.