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More than one-fifth of women over 65 who have stage III or IV cervical cancer do not receive any treatment for their cancer, according to the results of a study recently presented at the 32nd Annual Meeting of Gynecologic Oncologists.

Cervical cancer accounts for 6% of all cancers in women, with an estimated 16,000 new cases and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Cervical cancer is one of the more preventable types of cancer, especially when detected early. The extent of disease at the time of diagnosis is a crucial factor in determining the prognosis. Widespread use of a screening test called the Pap smear has led to a decline in the number of deaths resulting from cervical cancer.

Recently, researchers conducted a study to determine the patterns of treatment in women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the U.S. The researchers used the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program to identify 10,281 women diagnosed with cervical cancer between 1992 and 1997. They analyzed the data to determine whether primary treatment for these women consisted of surgery, radiation, a combination of surgery and radiation, or no treatment. The researchers also analyzed whether age or race/ethnicity had any impact upon treatment.

The results were surprising. The researchers found that many women with stage III or IV cancer did not receive any treatment. This was especially true for older women. Of the women with stage III or IV cervical cancer, 22% of women over 65 went untreated, compared with 15% of women ages 50-64 and 12% of women under 50. In comparison, of the women with stage I or II cervical cancer, only 7% of women over 65, 4% of women ages 50-64, and 3% of women under 50 went untreated.

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Unfortunately, the data did not provide any insight as to why these women were left untreated. The researchers speculated that a combination of factors such as access to care, fear of treatment and/or complications, and physician expectations could explain why these women were not treated. Understanding why so many women go without treatment could increase the chances that women diagnosed with cervical cancer receive appropriate treatment, thus potentially improving quality of life and survival for women with cervical cancer. (Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, 32nd Annual Meeting, March 2-7, 2001)