Cervical Cancer Could Kill More Women Without Obamacare
I had just lost my job when I got the results from a pap smear I had at my annual gynecologist appointment a few weeks earlier.
(And yeah, we're talking about pap smears here. It's healthcare, get over it.)
The results were abnormal. My doctor told me I had to go get another test, a colposcopy, to make sure I wasn't developing cervical cancer.
I was terrified, of course. But I would've been much more terrified had I not had health insurance anymore.
Thanks to Obamacare, I was covered by my parents' plan. I was able to get the test, and, luckily, it wasn't cancer.
This gets into more privileges -- my parents have insurance, I could afford the copay, OBGYNs are accessible where I live -- but it was thanks to Obamacare that I didn't have to panic over my health between jobs.
As it turns out, rates of death from cervical cancer are higher than previously thought.
A new study published on Monday showed previous rates of death were being incorrectly analyzed, the New York Times reported.
The cervical cancer mortality rate for black women, in the new analysis, is 10.1 per 100,000. It's 4.7 per 100,000 for white women.
These new numbers didn't show there are more deaths than previously thought, just that the rate among people who can get cervical cancer is higher. An estimated 4,000 women die in America from cervical cancer every year.
Only people with a cervix (i.e. women and many trans-men) can get cervical cancer. The previous rates included women who had had a hysterectomy, which typically removes a cervix, so including them in the rate calculation made the numbers less accurate.
The new numbers show a massive difference between white and black women.
The mortality rate for black women is more than double that of white women. That rate is about the same as it is for women in underdeveloped countries.
This is especially alarming because cervical cancer is a slow-moving cancer that can be caught with regular screenings and follow-up tests, like I did. Doctors now recommend women from 21 to 65 get pap smears every three to five years -- that's how slow the cancer is.
There are also vaccines you can get to help prevent dangerous strains of HPV, which can cause the cancer.
So these differences in mortality numbers point to differences in healthcare between white and black women.
Although the study did not look into those differences, other studies have indicated differences in healthcare between white women and women of color, especially those who are low income.
Should Donald Trump get rid of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), these numbers could get even worse.
Dr. Kathleen M. Schmeler, associate professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, told the New York Times,
We have screenings that are great, but many women in America are not getting them. And now I have even more concerns going forward, with the [potential] repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which covers screening, and the closing of family planning clinics, which do much of that screening.
Obamacare helps women get the insurance necessary to have the tests to detect cervical cancer.
And there's another factor: Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood provides 270,000 pap smears per year. Should Trump and the Republican Congress defund it, even more women would go without cervical cancer screenings.
Repealing Obamacare could lead to about 44,000 deaths every year, two professors of public health wrote in the Washington Post based on estimated data. It's possible a portion of those deaths would be from cervical cancer -- which is a tragedy, given that we have the tools to prevent those deaths.
Citations: Wider Racial Gap Found in Cervical Cancer Deaths (New York Times), Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine Safety (CDC), Planned Parenthood: Fast facts and revealing numbers (CNN), Repealing the Affordable Care Act will kill more than 43,000 people annually (Washington Post)