Kentucky is famous for many things: bourbon, basketball, fried chicken, bluegrass, horses, and … cervical cancer? Unfortunately, the incidence of cervical cancer diagnosis and death in Kentucky is one of the highest in the U.S. In 2014 (the most recent data available), the incidence of cervical cancer in Kentucky was 8.7/100,000, among the highest in the U.S., and mortality of 2.3/100,000, with rates even higher in Appalachian portions of the state.
But why? There are many reasons why women of Kentucky bear an unfair burden of cervical cancer in the United States. Women in Kentucky, particularly Appalachia, are less likely to seek screening than women in other areas of the United States. More than 30 percent of women in Kentucky report rarely or never receiving cervical cancer screening, compared to less than 10 percent of U.S. women nationally. These disparities may be due to cost, geographic location, lack of insurance, or limited access to medical care and providers. There is also a lack of perception for need for screening. Women, simply, do not feel it is necessary, despite education to the contrary.
Smoking also plays a role in the increased incidence of cervical cancer in Kentucky. Smoking inhibits the immune system, making it more challenging to kill HPV that causes cancer. While the national rate of smoking among women is 17 percent, in Kentucky, it is 23-27 percent, with 48 percent of women with cervical cancer reporting being a current smoker.
Finally, cervical cancer vaccination with the HPV vaccine has fallen behind in Kentucky. In the U.S., 60 percent of girls initiate the vaccine and 39 percent complete the vaccine series. However, in Kentucky, only 52 percent initiate the vaccine and only 37 percent complete the vaccine series. These lower vaccine rates lead to increased HPV, cervical dysplasia, and cancer in our state.
Despite these factors, there are things you can do to lower your risk of cervical cancer.
- First, if you smoke, stop smoking. Smoking not only increases your risk of developing cervical cancer, it can increase the risk of dying from cervical cancer.
- Second, if you are eligible for the vaccine, get it. This 2-3 shot series can have lifesaving effects.
- Finally, take advantage of cervical cancer screening. Local and community clinics offer free or discounted screening through state-sponsored programs. A short exam could be save your life.
Wilburn, AB et al. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination in Kentucky: An Environmental Scan. https://ukhealthcare.uky.edu/sites/default/files/hpv-es-report-final-november-28-2016.pdf