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Understanding Cervical Cancer: What You Need to Know

This month is National Cervical Health Month. Read more about cervical cancer, HPV and how the disease affects black women.

What Is Cervical Cancer?
It’s cancer of the cervix, which is located in the lower part of a woman’s uterus (womb). Most cervical cancer begins with the cells lining the cervix wall, which over time turn from pre-cancerous cells into cancerous cells, says Cancer.org.

Types of Cervical Cancer
There are two major types of cervical cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. It’s estimated that most women (80 to 90 percent) with cervical cancer are diagnosed with squamous cell carcinomas. Once diagnosed with cancerous cells, it can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

What Causes It?
Having a high-risk strain of the common STD human papillomavirus (HPV) is the number one risk factor. However, other risk factors include smoking, having more than one sexual partner, being a secondhand smoker, having a compromised immune system, having a lot of children and being on birth control pills for a long period of time, WebMD says.

How Common Is Cervical Cancer?
Because HPV is the most common STD in the United States—it’s estimated that almost 40 percent of all women have had it in their lifetime—cervical cancer can be a serious threat, despite it being rare. In 2010, 11,100 American women were diagnosed with cervical cancer and almost 4,000 died, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Black Women and Cervical Cancer
Of the 2,000 black women diagnosed each year, a whopping 40 percent of us will die from the disease. This is due to range of factors, including poor access to health care, high rates of HPV infections among black women/girls and the fact that HPV takes longer to clear up in us than our white counterparts.

HPV and the Racial Divide
While the HPV vaccine has been proven safe and effective in reducing HPV and cancer rates among girls and boys, young black women and girls are 35 percent less likely to get the shot. Its hefty price ($350 for the series of three shots), mistrust of doctors and cultural issues around teen sexuality play into this disparity.


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