There’s a lot of pressure placed on women to have pap tests to screen for cervical cancer. Some doctors give more attention to cervical cancer screening than to any health condition or concern a woman has. Some doctors are more interested in finding out the date of a woman’s last pap test than they are in finding out about the reason for a woman’s visit. Medical organizations and the media also place pressure on women to have pap tests. Awareness campaigns and media reminders that “cervical cancer can kill you” are everywhere.
With all the pressure and the constant reminders it’s easy to mistakenly assume that cervical cancer must be a huge threat to women’s health. But if you look at the statistics you can see just how small the threat from cervical cancer actually is. The pie chart below shows some causes of death in numbers, and compares cervical cancer deaths with other causes of death of women in the United States (numbers in thousands):
Number of Female Deaths, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/womens-health.htm
Falls cause death about three and a half times more often than cervical cancer. Diabetes, ischemic heart diseases, and other heart diseases are a much bigger threat than cervical cancer. Deaths from cervical cancer represent a tiny slice of the chart. The chart below shows some other causes of death in comparison to cervical cancer:
Number of Female Deaths, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_02.pdf
The natural occurrence of cervical cancer is also small. The following chart shows the frequencies of some diseases in comparison to cervical cancer:
Frequencies of diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_10/sr10_260.pdf
From looking at the numbers it’s possible to see cervical cancer represents a small slice of the bigger picture in terms of disease frequency. Diabetes, heart disease, asthma, hypertension, and other diseases are much more common – and the charts above only represent a small number of the diseases that are far more common than cervical cancer.
The statistics indicate that the time and energy spent pressuring women to screen for cervical cancer could be better spent on the prevention and monitoring of other more common and more deadly threats to women’s health.