Cervical Cancer and Women of Color: What Will it Take to Get to Zero?

This article is cross-posted from and in partnership with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Healthand is published as part of a series on cervical cancer.

See all our coverage of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 2012 here.

Each January we celebrate Cervical Cancer Awareness month. This month gives us an opportunity to reflect on our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and friends that we have lost to this preventable disease, and a time to consider how we will get the cervical cancer incidence and death rate among women of color to zero. There is no better time to educate and empower women to protect themselves from cervical cancer and make their health a priority.

It is no secret that women of color—specifically Black and Latina women—are at greatest risk of cervical cancer. Latina women have the highest incidence rate of cervical cancer and Black women have the highest death rate from the disease, which is almost two times greater than for White women. These staggering and unacceptable figures are only worsened by the knowledge that this disease is largely preventable through timely screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

Then what will it take to put an end cervical cancer?

Ending cervical cancer will be no easy task. Great strides can be made by taking a multi-level approach to the problem, which includes expanding knowledge, empowering Black women to make their health a priority, and continued advocacy efforts.

Urge women to recommit to their health and get regular preventive screenings, including Pap tests. Prevention is key! Cervical cancer usually develops very slowly and—if abnormal cells are detected early by a Pap test—it can be treated while still in pre-cancerous stages. However, approximately 50 percent of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer have never had a Pap test before; an additional 10 percent have not had a Pap test in the last five years. Parents of girls and young women should speak to their healthcare providers about the HPV vaccine, which protects against two types of HPV that cause 75 percent of cervical cancer. All women should undergo regular Pap tests within three years of sexual onset and no later than age 21. At age 30, women should get Pap tests in conjunction with HPV tests, which will identify women who are at greatest risk of cervical cancer and will require closer monitoring.

Continue to advocate for screening and treatment guidelines and laws that make reproductive justice and women’s health a priority. At the Black Women’s Health Imperative we believe that screening and treatment guidelines should adequately represent the needs of Black women and the cervical cancer trends persisting within the community. We are dedicated to removing barriers and ensuring that screening standards and guidelines are appropriate for Black women and enable them to achieve optimal health and well-being. We also partner with organizations like the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum to mobilize efforts aimed at improving the health of all women.

We believe that the health of Black women matters. We also believe that the number of deaths from cervical cancer should be zero and are committed to making this a reality!

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  • william-jamison

    …is a concerted effort to remove republican tea party members from all local, state and national offices, for they truly believe that cervical cancer is god’s punishment for promiscuity.

    In their minds, a vaccine capable of nullifying “god’s will” is the devil’s work, and they will do everything in their power to deny that vaccine to your daughters.

    Believe it.

  • william-jamison

    Furthermore, I’m curious to know why your article makes no mention of the availability of a safe and highly effective vaccine for prevention of cervical cancer.

    Why would you leave that out?