Previous studies of the relationship between socio-economic status and cervical cancer have been mainly based on record linkage of routine data, such as cancer registry incidence rates and regional measures of social class based on census data. These routine data are liable to substantial misclassification with respect to socio-economic status. Previous reports are also primarily from developed countries, whereas the major burden of cervical cancer is in developing countries. We have therefore pooled the data from previously reported case-control studies of cervical cancer or dysplasia, which contain individual-level information on socio-economic characteristics to investigate the relationship between cervical cancer, social class, stage of disease, geographical region, age and histological type. Based on 57 studies, we found an increased risk of approximately 100% between high and low social class categories for the development of invasive cervical cancer, and an increased risk of approximately 60% for dysplasia, including carcinoma in situ. Although the difference was observed in all countries, it was stronger in low/middle income countries and in North America than in Europe. No clear differences were observed between squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma, or between younger and older women. These results indicate that both cervical infection with human papillomavirus, which is linked to both female and male sexual behaviour, and access to adequate cervical cancer screening programmes are likely to be important in explaining the large cervical cancer incidence rates observed in different socio-economic groups, and that the importance of these factors may vary between different geographical regions.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.