In a study from UC Davis, scientists found an alarming number of California women 65 and older are facing late-stage cervical cancer diagnoses and dying from the disease.
This is despite guidelines that recommend most women stop screening for cervical cancer at this age.
The findings highlight the need to better understand how current screening guidelines might be failing women 65 and over.
In the study, the team used a large set of population-based data from the California Cancer Registry.
The data was used to identify all women 21 years and older who were diagnosed with a first primary cervical cancer in California from 2009-2018, the 10 most recent years that complete data was available.
Among women 65 and older, those who had comorbidities or were older were more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage disease.
The team showed nearly one in five new cervical cancers diagnosed from 2009-2018 were in women 65 and older.
More of these women (71%) presented with late-stage disease than younger women (48%), with the number of late-stage diagnoses increasing up to age 79.
The team found that late-stage five-year relative survival was lower for women 65 and over (23.2%-36.8%) compared to patients under 65 (41.5%-51.5%).
Women 80 years and older had the lowest survival of all age groups.
The study showed worsening five-year relative survival from cervical cancer with each increasing age category for both early and late-stage diagnoses.
Following the introduction and widespread adoption of the Papanicolaou (Pap) smear test in the 1940s, cervical cancer incidence and mortality have fallen significantly.
However, incidence rates have plateaued since 2012, and rates of invasive cervical cancer have actually increased in recent decades.
Through adequate screening and follow-up, cervical cancer can be prevented or detected at an early stage, which leads to excellent survival.
However, current guidelines recommend discontinuing screening for women 65 or older who have had a history of normal Pap and/or Human Papillomavirus (HPV) tests, potentially leaving this age group vulnerable.
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The study was conducted by Julianne Cooley et al and published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
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