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Study: Cervical cancer rates higher in older women than previously thought

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A child health nurse holds up a vial and box for the HPV vaccine, brand name Gardasil, at a clinic in Kinston, N.C.

A new study is arguing that cervical cancer rates in the United States are much higher than previously believed, Medical News Today reported.

Published in the journal Cancer, the new research suggests that the current screening guidelines for cervical cancer underestimate the incidence of the disease – and overlook older women, who are at the most risk for the condition.

Previous estimates on cervical cancer rates in the United States have calculated approximately 11.7 cases of the disease per 100,000 women.  Yet this latest study, led by Ann Rositch of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, noted that these analyses include women who have had hysterectomies – a procedure in which the uterus is totally removed – and are no longer at risk of developing cervical cancer.  

When the researchers redid the calculations, excluding women with hysterectomies, they found the rates increased to 18.6 per 100,000.

Additionally, the researchers found that these incidence rates increased with age – a finding that contradicts current guidelines for cervical cancer screening.  Past research has found that cervical cancer incidence rates are highest between the ages of 40 and 44; therefore, the American Cancer Society recommends that women over the age of 65, who have had regular Pap screenings with normal results, do not need to be screened for cervical cancer.

But Rositch and her team argue that women older than 65 are actually at highest risk of developing the disease.  They found that once they eliminated women with hysterectomies, overall incidence rates increased with age; women between the ages of 65 and 69 had the highest incidence of cervical cancer at 24.7 cases per 100,000 women.

The researchers conclude that cervical cancer remains a major problem for women, and that future research should provide a clearer picture of who is most at risk.

"In order to make accurate estimates of the true rates of cervical cancer by age in the U.S. and monitor trends in the occurrence of disease, it is important to calculate the occurrence of cervical cancer only among women who are at risk," Rositch said.

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