Cervical Cancer Still a Risk for Seniors

Tim Watt  |  May 19, 2014

As people age, there may be certain disorders they no longer feel concerned about experiencing. This statement is true of cervical cancer, a disease which affected nearly 12,000 women in the U.S. during 2010, and was fatal for almost 4,000 of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number represents a significant decrease in reported cases of cervical cancer, which was formerly the leading cause of cancer-related death for women across the nation. The source reports that the increasing prevalence of pap smears during regular checkups or gynecological exams has helped catch the disease early on, preventing it from becoming fatal.

Seniors and cervical cancer
Many women who are residents of senior living, however, may opt out of receiving a pap smear and, in doing so, put themselves at higher risk. According to research conducted by scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., the rate of death for women over the age of 65 from cervical cancer is actually higher than that of women below that age, and 25 percent of new cases occur among seniors. Among the older subset, approximately 7.6 women per 100,000 die from cervical cancer, as compared to only 2.1 for the younger individuals. Contributing to this disparity is the comparatively high number of senior women who choose not to receive treatment.

Testing for cervical cancer
During January, Cervical Health Awareness Month, senior women may want to take the opportunity to speak with a health care provider if they have not recently been tested for the disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, just over half of women who are 65 or older have undergone a cervical cytology in the past three years, and 25 percent of older women have never been tested at all. In some cases, this oversight is due to lack of insurance or information, but many simply neglect doing so due to beliefs that it is unnecessary. A physician can help by encouraging seniors to consider a pap smear if it has not been a routine part of their medical care.

According to the CDC, the primary indicator of cervical cancer is abnormal bleeding or vaginal discharge, which can also indicate cancers of the ovaries or uterus. If you experience this symptom, it's important to seek medical attention as soon as possible and not wait until your annual exam. 

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