Cervical Cancer Risk Doesn’t Drop Off With Age

A new study that finds older women are at a higher risk for cervical cancer than previously thought doesn’t surprise a local doctor.

“We see older women who have cervical cancer frequently in practice,” said Jill Whyte, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at North Shore University Hospital. “Most of these patients haven’t had a pap smear or seen a gynecologist since the birth of their last child 30 years ago.”
Each year, more than 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer, which kills about 4,000.

Up until now, cervical cancer rates were believed to be highest between the ages of 40 and 44, at 15.6 per 100,000 women. But, these rates were based on data that included women who had undergone a hysterectomy and, therefore, couldn’t get cervical cancer.

When study researchers from the University of Maryland Medical Center eliminated those who had a hysterectomy, they found cervical cancer rates were highest among older women with 24.7 cases per 100,000 for those 65 to 69 years old.

Current guidelines recommend women ages 21 to 65 get a pap smear to screen for precancers or cancers in the cervix, or an HPV test to look for infections that may cause cell changes and cancer. Women over age 65 who have had regular screenings with normal results are told they don’t need to be tested any more.

The take-home message, said Dr. Whyte, is that older women need to develop an appropriate screening plan for cervical cancer based on their individual health history.

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