Natural Disasters May Affect Cervical Cancer Screening Rates

Cervical cancer screening rates in Japan were significantly affected in the years following the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, suggesting that disasters can affect cervical cancer screening for years.

Cervical cancer screening rates in Japan were significantly affected in the years following the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, suggesting that disasters can affect cervical cancer screening for years, according to researchers at Tohoku University.

On March 11, 2011, Miyagi Prefecture in eastern Japan experienced a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, followed by a destructive tsunami that affected its coastal areas. Researchers at Tohoku University examined how the earthquake affected cervical cancer screening rates in Miyagi Prefecture.

Published in PLOS ONE, the study found that in 5 years after the 2011 disaster, cervical cancer screenings dropped by more than 3% in 4 areas of Miyagi Prefecture covered by mobile van testing. In the coastal city of Onagawa, cervical cancer screening dropped 7% following the disaster. Although screening rates improved slightly over the years, they were still 6.9% lower in 2016 compared with pre-earthquake levels.

Similar trends, though less severe, were found in other areas of the prefecture; with rates significantly lower in coastal areas compared with non-coastal ones.

Across Japan, approximately 15 women per 100,000 are affected by cervical cancer. This rate is higher than that in countries such as the United States (6%) and South Korea (8.4%), and similar to that of India (14.7) and the Philippines (14.9%). Additionally, less than 1% of girls in Japan have received the human papillomavirus vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer. This means that cervical cancer screening is important for early detection and diagnosis, the study authors noted. Even so, cervical cancer screening rates are lower in Japan (42.3% of women aged 20-69 years) compared with other countries, such as 80% in the United States.

The issue is not specific to Japan. US researchers had previously observed fewer women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina in the 5 years following 2005, compared with the 5 years preceding it. Those diagnosed also had more advanced disease, suggesting that the cervical cancer screening services were not being fully utilized.

The study authors recommend further studies to understand why screening rates were affected more in some areas compared with others.

Reference

  • Disasters Can Affect Cervical Cancer Screening for Years [news release]. Tohoku University website. Published March 26, 2020. https://www.tohoku.ac.jp/en/press/cervical_cancer_screening.html. Accessed April 3, 2020.