The findings of a new study show that cervical cancer screening rates (CCS-R) in Japan were notably affected in the years following the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. The study appeared in PLOS ONE.
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. “Conflicts and disasters, and the social isolation that often follows, have a major impact on healthcare and lead to delays in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers,” says Tohoku University’s Yasuhiro Miki, who specializes in disaster obstetrics and gynecology in a press release.
Researchers assessed the CCS-R from 2009 to 2016 in 45 areas of the Miyagi Prefecture using mobile vans. Their results showed that in the five years after the 2011 disaster, cervical cancer screenings reduced by more than 3% in four areas of Miyagi Prefecture covered by mobile van testing. For example, in the coastal city of Onagawa, cervical cancer screening dropped 7% following the disaster. While the researchers observed that rates improved slightly over the years, they were still 6.9% lower in 2016 compared to pre-earthquake levels. Similar, though less severe trends were found in other areas of the prefecture; with rates significantly lower in coastal areas compared to non-coastal ones.
“Cervical cancer screening is essential for maintaining good health, but in many affected areas, the rates markedly decreased in the year following the earthquake,” says Miki. “More problematically, the decline in cervical cancer screening rates did not even recover in some areas five years after the earthquake.”
Moreover, this issue is not specific to Japan. Researchers in the US had previously observed fewer women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina in the five years following 2005, compared to the five years preceding it. Those diagnosed also had more advanced disease, indicating that the cervical cancer screening services were not being fully utilized.
“Long term monitoring of women’s health is needed after a disaster,” Miki says. “Measures need to be taken to restore screening rates in all affected areas.”