Cervical Cancer Mortality Stagnates Despite Screening

Heidi Splete

October 28, 2021

Approximately 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in women in the United States each year, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said B.J. Rimel, MD, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, in a presentation at the virtual Advancing NIH Research on the Health of Women conference sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

Despite increased cervical cancer prevention and screening efforts, the incidence of, and mortality from, cervical cancer has remained stable for the past 2 decades, said Rimel.

Cervical cancer is the only cancer that can be prevented by vaccination, Rimel noted. It is essential to identify the women who are dying from cervical cancer, as well as who gets screened, who gets vaccinated, and who ends up in clinical trials, she said.

Novel agents for treating cervical cancer suggest that improvement in stagnant mortality rates is possible, said Rimel. She noted recent studies of cemiplimab, tisotumab vedotin, and a combination therapy involving pembrolizumab and platinum/paclitaxel, with and without bevacizumab.

Rimel suggested several opportunities to improve the identification and treatment of cervical cancer: Treat it like a rare disease; address structural racism through clinical trials; create opportunities for low–socioeconomic status patients to be involved in research; and develop solutions according to location (urban vs. rural), she said.

Compared with other cancers, cervical cancer is relatively rare in the United States, Rimel said. However, "It is important that those with cervical cancer can get treated and get healed from the disease," she said. To better identify the women with cervical cancer who need treatment and to get them into clinical trials, she suggested using strategies employed by rare disease groups, such as seeking out patient support groups and registries.

Significant racial and ethnic disparities persist in cervical cancer, Rimel emphasized. Data from the CDC show that Black and Hispanic women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer more frequently than women of other races and ethnicities and are less likely to survive.

"Reimagine cervical cancer as a disease of patients who are historically underrepresented due to race, language, poverty, and location," she said.

Improving equity in cervical cancer care involves structural and trial-specific issues, said Rimel. Structural issues start with addressing how women enter into the health care system, she said. Consider where women receive care, and whether women have the opportunity to be vaccinated, and later screened, she said. Consider barriers to cervical cancer trials in centers with larger underserved populations, not only cost or insurance, but also issues of language and trust between patients and health care providers, she noted.

To improve the equity of cervical cancer clinical trials, consider potential barriers to enrollment, she added.

"Low English fluency is a barrier to trial enrollment," said Rimel. In-person translation is essential for consent to participate in a trial, and "clinical trial budgets must reflect this requirement," she added. Patient-reported outcomes need to be in the patient's preferred language, "this includes online content," Rimel said.

Rimel presented other strategies for clinical trial designs to improve equity.

"Compensate patients for their travel, or provide them with tech to allow for off-site monitoring," she proposed. Patients of lower socioeconomic status in rural and urban areas have different barriers to enrollment, but virtual visits might be an option for those able to access the Internet when given a device. For others, smaller trial sites closer to home, combined with compensation for travel or missed work, might create more opportunities to participate, Rimel said. Finally, researchers should consider potential roles for smaller or broader studies that involve less travel and testing that would be feasible for more patients who might not otherwise participate in a clinical trial, she concluded.

Rimel had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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