Cervical cancer screening rates ‘unacceptably low’

New research suggests the percentage of women who undergo cervical cancer screenings is much lower than national data has reported, according to a Mayo Clinic study published in the Journal of Women’s Health.

Just how low are the numbers? According to the study, which was done from 2005 to 2016, less than two-thirds of women ages 30 to 65 were up-to-do-date with cervical cancer screenings in 2016. And slightly more than half of women 21 to 29 were current on their screenings. 

The findings are at odds with the 81 percent screening compliance rate self-reported in the 2015 National Health Interview Survey.

“These cervical cancer rates are unacceptably low,” said lead author Kathy MacLaughlin, MD, with Mayo Clinic, 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.”

Using the Rochester Epidemiology Project database, Mayo researchers looked at the screening rates of more than 47,000 women in Olmsted County, Minnesota. Besides low overall screening rates, the team also found racial screening disparities.

African-American women were 50 percent less likely to be current than white women in 2016, and Asian women were 30 percent less likely, according to MacLaughlin, who noted the findings were “especially concerning.”

The Mayo team wrote that Olmsted County is less ethnically and racially diverse than the overall U.S. population, making it a limitation, but claimed its population does accurately reflect the Upper Midwest.

Current guidelines, updated in 2012, recommend Pap testing every three years for women ages 21 to 65 or Pap-HPV co-testing every five years for women ages 30 to 65. But the study results should persuade clinicians to get creative to address the problem.

“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.