There's been a spike in rates of cervical cancer among women in low-income areas of the U.S. The finding, which includes distant-stage cervical cancer that has spread throughout the body, comes from a study led by researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Mortality rates related to cervical cancer among low-income women are also increasing.

“These data add to a growing body of evidence indicating growing disparities driven by socioeconomic status,” Jane Montealegre, co-senior author on the study and an associate professor of behavioral science at M.D. Anderson, said in a statement.

Screening and vaccination for HPV — the human papilloma virus — make cervical cancer largely preventable, so providers and policymakers should increase their efforts to eliminate these disparities. As the researchers point out, “These findings can inform public health interventions and, particularly, the need for targeted prevention among women living in low-income counties.”

Cervical cancer rates among low-income non-Hispanic white women rose about 19 percent between 2000 and 2019.

The researchers looked at how rates of cervical cancer diagnosis and cervical cancer mortality changed according to household income and race and ethnicity using data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results-22 dataset. Income at the county level was obtained from the American Community Survey. Low-income counties reported a household income between about $19,000 and $39,000.

Cervical cancer rates increased one percent per year between 2000 and 2019 — or about 19 percent — among non-Hispanic white women in low-income counties. A statistically significant increase of more than four percent in rates of distant-stage cervical cancer was reported in this group. Between 2005 and 2019, cervical cancer mortality increased by about one percent per year among non-Hispanic white women in low-income counties.

Black women in low-income counties had an almost three percent increase in cancer mortality since 2013, the largest increase in rates of cervical cancer mortality seen in any group, although cancer rates in this group declined by almost four percent. Rates of distant-stage cervical cancer increased by one-and-a-half percent among Hispanic women in low-income counties. These findings, however, were not considered statistically significant.

The introduction of more sensitive screening tests for cervical cancer may not explain the increase in rates of distant-stage cancer and cancer mortality in certain racial and ethnic groups in low-income counties, according to the researchers. Their findings instead suggest disruptions in cervical cancer screening and treatment.

“Despite decades of improvement due to the widespread implementation of cervical cancer prevention programs in the U.S., our study shows women may be facing disruptions along the screening and treatment continuum that are leading to more distant-stage cancers and, potentially, more deaths,” Trisha Amboree, lead author on the study and a postdoctoral fellow at M.D. Anderson, said in a statement.

More research is needed to better understand the increase in cancer mortality rates, especially among non-Hispanic Black women, whose rates of cervical cancer are declining, the researchers said.

The study is published in the International Journal of Cancer.