SUNDAY, April 1 (HealthDay News) -- Human papillomavirus
infection tends to lasts longer in college-aged black women than
whites, possibly setting them up for a higher risk of cervical
cancer, according to a new study.
The researchers also found that black women are 70 percent more
likely to have an abnormal Pap test -- the screening for cervical
cancer -- than their white counterparts. Human papillomavirus, or
HPV, which is a sexually transmitted infection, can cause genital
warts and is responsible for many cases of cervical cancer.
"African American women are more likely to have persistent high-risk HPV infection," said study author Kim Creek, vice-chair and professor of pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences at South Carolina College of Pharmacy, in Charleston.
Most HPV infections are transient. "If you are infected, your
body recognizes it as a viral infection and usually clears the
virus within one or two years," he said. "It is those women who
have difficulty clearing it that are at higher risk of cervical
disease and cervical cancer."
Exactly why black women have more difficulty clearing the virus
is not known. "We think that it likely has something to do with the
immune system," he said.
Lifestyle factors and genetic differences may also play a role.
"We will try to understand why this occurs because if we could
understand the reason for the difference, it would be easier to
make public health recommendations about what to do about it,"
For the study, researchers assessed HPV infection and
persistence in college-age women enrolled at the University of
South Carolina. The study began in 2004, and the women were
followed throughout their college years. HPV status was evaluated
every six months in Pap test samples from 326 white women and 113
The rate of new high-risk HPV infection was similar between the
two groups of women, the researchers found, but at any visit, black
women were 1.5 times more likely to test positive for high-risk HPV
infection. Also, 56 percent of black women were still infected two
years after they were first diagnosed, compared with 24 percent of
The findings are slated for presentation Sunday at the annual
meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, in
Creek said that black women are 40 percent more likely to
develop cervical cancer and two times more likely to die from the
disease than European or American white women. This discrepancy is
often attributed to lack of access to medical care, but the authors
said their findings suggest a biological basis lies behind the
Regular screening with the Pap test is the best way to prevent
cervical cancer, Creek said. A sample of cells is scraped from a
woman's cervix and examined under a microscope. If any abnormal or
precancerous cells are detected, measures can be taken to prevent
them from developing into cancer.
HPV vaccinations offer protection from the four types of HPV
that cause most cervical cancers. These shots are currently
recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls and for females aged 13
to 26 who did not get any or all of the HPV shots when they were
younger. The vaccines can be given to girls beginning at 9 years of
"African American women may benefit even more from the HPV shots," Creek said.
Dr. Diana Contreras, director of gynecologic oncology at Long
Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said it is way
too early to draw any conclusions about screening and treatment of
HPV in black women from this study.
"We are beginning to understand that HPV may behave differently in different ethnic groups," she said. "This study is very provocative, but the jury is still out on screening and treatment, and we have to be careful about drawing too many conclusions."
Data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings
should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed
Learn more about
HPV infection at
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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