We know a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer increases with age, but are experts severely underestimating its prevalence? A study conducted at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has revealed that cervical cancer rates in the United States, especially among 65- to 69-year-old women and Africa-American women, are substantially higher that what experts previously thought.

“Our corrected calculations show that women just past 65, when current guidelines state that screenings can stop for many women, have the highest rate of cervical cancer,” said Dr. Anne F. Rositch, researcher at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, said in a statement. “It will be important to consider these findings when reevaluating risk and screening guidelines for cervical cancer in older women and the appropriate age to stop screening.”

Rositch and her colleagues from the university analyzed all existing research connected to incidences of cervical cancer diagnoses among women in the U.S. Previous age-standardized rates estimated that 12 out of every 100,000 American women are affected by cervical cancer — a statistic that included women who had undergone a hysterectomy. The research team noted that current estimates exclude women who have undergone a hysterectomy. Women who receive a hysterectomy have the lower part of their uterus, cervix, removed, meaning they no longer at risk of developing cervical cancer.

Overall, the research team estimated the actual cervical cancer rates among all women at 18.6 cases per 100,000 women. Cervical cancer rates among women between the ages of 65 and 69 were estimated at 27.4 cases per 100,000 women, which was 84 percent higher than previous data at 14.8 cases per 100,000 women. Rates among African-American women between 65 and 69 were the highest among all racial and age demographics, at 53 cases per 100,000 women compared to uncorrected data at 23.5 cases per 100,000 women.

“The higher rates of cervical cancer after correction for hysterectomy highlight the fact that, although a large proportion of cervical cancer has been prevented through early detection and treatment, it remains a significant problem,” the research team explained.

Researchers also called for an improvement to widespread human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination efforts, considering the virus is to blame for almost all of cervical cancer diagnoses. Women should also consider annual routine Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer. Following nationwide programs stressing the importance of Pap testing, the mortality rates surrounding cervical cancer have dropped by 70 percent.

“It will be important to clarify in future studies whether the continued increase in cervical cancer rates with age and the higher rates in African-American women represent a failure in our screening programs or a failure of the women to be screened so that appropriate interventions can be applied,” Rositch added.

Source: Nowak R, Gravitt P, Rositch A. Increased age and race-specific incidence of cervical cancer after correction for hysterectomy prevalence in the United States from 2000 to 2009. Cancer. 2014.