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Home HPV Research HPV Research HPV Takes Longer to Clear in African-American Women

HPV Takes Longer to Clear in African-American Women

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A study finds young African-American women take longer to clear high-risk HPV infections than white women of similar age.

Cervical cancer rates and mortality are higher among African-American women than in society at large. Compared to whites, for example, African-American women are more than twice as likely to die from the disease. The disparity has largely been attributed to factors such as poverty and lack of access to health care (African-American women tend to be diagnosed with cervical cancer in later stages, when the prognosis isn’t as good).

The Carolina Women’s Care Study began in 2004 and followed 467 women (including 111 African-American and 326 white or European-American women) at the University of South Carolina throughout their time in college. Researchers gave the subjects Pap and HPV tests every six months to examine both HPV infections and their duration. African-American and white participants were similar with regard to number of sexual partners, age at which they first had sex, and the number of new HPV infections found throughout the study. HPV-16, the type found with about half of all cervical cancers, was the most common high-risk type detected.

A finding the investigators referred to as “striking” was the difference in viral clearance: 56% of African-American women with high-risk HPV still had the infection 24 months after it was first detected, compared to only 24% of white women. African-American women were also 1.7 times more likely to have an abnormal Pap test result than their white counterparts.

HPV infections tend to clear naturally (90% resolve within 6-24 months) due to the immune response. HPV infections that don’t clear (referred to as persistent infections) are the key factor in the development of cervical cancer, though. The researchers say it isn’t clear why African-American women in this study took longer to clear HPV infections, but say their findings suggest a possible “biological basis” to consider when examining disparities in cervical cancer incidence and mortality.

Reference
Messersmith A, Banister C, Spiryda L, et al. (April 2012). Increased risk of persistent human papillomavirus infection and abnormal Pap tests in African American compared to European American women in a college-age cohort. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, Chicago, IL.