Racial disparities in cervical cancer are real and alarming. Take this startling statistic as an example: Black women are twice as likely to die from cervical cancer than white women — and cervical cancer is considered a preventable disease.
According to Jessica A. Shepherd, MD, MBA, a board-certified ob-gyn who is working to raise awareness about cervical cancer, the reasoning behind the data doesn't have to do with anything biological or genetic, yet instead a lack of access and education.
"Unconscious bias and discrimination play a large role in in-equal access, less accurate diagnoses, decreased treatment options, less pain management and poor clinical outcomes," Dr. Shepherd says.
To help address these issues with cervical cancer treatment and diagnosis, the Black Women's Health Imperative and Hologic's Project Health Equality have teamed up with Ciara and Dr. Shepherd to launch the Cerving Confidence campaign. This public health campaign featuring Ciara is meant to help encourage Black women to visit their doctors for HPV and Pap tests — two key tools for preventing cervical cancer and also treating it before it's a larger concern.
"Testing can identify abnormalities before they become cervical cancer and can prevent death from the disease," Dr. Shepherd explains. "For women ages 21-29, regular Pap testing is recommended. Starting at age 30, we add the HPV test, so that you get what's called Pap+HPV together, which is the preferred standard for this age group and detects almost all cervical cancers — offering the benefits of two tests with just one sample."
The timing of this campaign's launch is also incredibly important to acknowledge. Many people may have put off or canceled their annual health exams due to pandemic concerns and strict lockdown measures. Dr. Shepherd says this likely has widened existing disparities.
"In fact, many experts fear the delay in screenings will result in more undiagnosed cancers – including cervical cancers."
She added that because of these delays in screenings, Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer than any other racial group. "In a time when cervical cancer can be largely preventable, this is unacceptable."
As we ease into a new state of normalcy, it's crucial that we get back on top of making and attending doctor's appointments. The Cerving Confidence campaign's website even offers a checklist of questions to ask your doctor during your visit. Asking these questions will help you have a better understanding of the procedures that will be performed and how to prioritize and maintain your health.
"Not many cancers are preventable, but fortunately this one is — that's why I am encouraging any women who have delayed screening over the past year to schedule their annual well-woman exam and receive a Pap or Pap+HPV test as soon as possible!" Dr. Shepherd says.
"We want women to be empowered by their health and encourage others to do theirs as well."