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Cervical cancer screenings 'unacceptably low,' researchers say

By Tauren Dyson

Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Cervical cancer screening rates for women may be much lower than previously reported, new research suggests.

In 2016, fewer than two-thirds of women ages 30 to 65 kept up to date with cervical cancer screenings. That number compares to over 50 percent of women between ages 21 and 29 who have stayed current with their screenings.

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"These cervical cancer rates are unacceptably low," Kathy MacLaughlin, family medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic and the study's lead author, said in a news release. "Routine screening every three years with a Pap test or every five years with a Pap-HPV co-test ensures precancerous changes are caught early and may be followed more closely or treated."

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic also found racial disparities in the rates of women who screened for the deadly disease.

"African-American women were 50 percent less likely to be up-to-date on cervical cancer screening than white woman in 2016," MacLaughlin said. "Asian women were nearly 30 percent less likely than white women to be current on screening. These racial disparities are especially concerning."

Once the deadliest cancer in the United States, cervical cancer incidences and deaths have fallen drastically over the last 40 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

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In 2012, cervical cancer screening guidelines were updated to recommend women between ages 21 and 65 get Pap tests every three years or for women ages 30 to 65 to get Pap-HPV co-testing every five years.

Experts have pointed to the prevalence of Pap testing as a reason for the decline of cervical cancer.

About 99 percent of cervical cancers contain HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease. HPV normally takes between 10 and 20 years to develop.

Yet more than 4,100 women died of cervical cancer in 2018.

To increase testing efforts, MacLaughlin says doctors at Pap clinics could provide longer evening or Saturday hours.

"We, as clinicians, must start thinking outside the box on how best to reach these women and ensure they are receiving these effective and potentially life-saving screening tests," MacLaughlin said.

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