HPV Infection Lasts Longer in College-Age African-American Women


Released: 3/27/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Embargo expired: 4/1/2012 9:00 AM EDT 

Source: American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)

Newswise — CHICAGO — College-age African-American women have a more difficult time clearing human papillomavirus infection and are more likely to have an abnormal Pap test than European-American women, according to research presented at the AACR Annual Meeting 2012, held here March 31 – April 4.

“African-American women are 40 percent more likely to get cervical cancer and are two times more likely to die from the disease than European-American women,” said study leader Kim E. Creek, Ph.D., vice chair and professor in the department of pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences in the South Carolina College of Pharmacy at the University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C.

Creek and colleagues conducted the Carolina Women’s Care Study to assess human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and persistence in college-age women enrolled at the University of South Carolina. The study began in 2004, and researchers followed participants for the duration of their college experience.

High-risk HPV status was evaluated every six months in Pap test samples collected from 326 European-American and 113 African-American women.

The incidence rate of new high-risk HPV infection was similar between the two groups of participants, but researchers reported that at any visit, African-American participants were 1.5 times more likely to test positive for high-risk HPV infection. Fifty-six percent of African-American women were still infected two years after incident infection compared with 24 percent of European-American women. African-American women were 1.7 times more likely to have an abnormal Pap test.

“Most women infected with high-risk HPV clear the infection within nine to 18 months,” said Creek. “However, high-risk HPV can persist in some women who are much more likely to have abnormal Pap tests and to develop cervical cancer. We propose that an increase in high-risk HPV persistence in African-American women may provide a biological basis for the higher incidence of cervical cancer found in African-American women.

“Although the differences in incidence and mortality rates for cervical cancer between these two groups have been attributed solely to access to care, no study has systematically attempted to identify other factors that may contribute to this disparity. We were not sure what to expect, but we suspected that there may be biological factors involved in the immune response to HPV that contribute to the disparity. Our findings support this hypothesis.”

The study was supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Creek is a member of the speakers’ bureau for Merck.

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