The researchers say that this persistence may explain the high rates of cervical cancer.
HPV infection tends to last longer in black women than in white women, which puts them at increased risk of cervical cancer, according to a new study.
The researchers also found that black women were 70 percent more likely to have abnormal cervical screening tests (cervical cancer screening) than their white counterparts. HPV, or HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, can cause genital warts and is responsible for many cases of cervical cancer.
“African-American women are likely to experience a high-risk HPV infection,” said study author Kim Crick, vice president and professor of pharmacology and biomedical sciences at the South Carolina College of Pharmacy in Charleston.
The majority of HPV infections are transient. “If you are infected, your body recognizes it as a viral infection and usually eliminates the virus within one or two years,” he said. “These women who have difficulty getting rid of them are more likely to have cervical and cervical cancer.”
Exactly why black women are more difficult to eliminate unknown viruses. “We think it’s likely to have something to do with the immune system,” he said.
Lifestyle factors and genetic differences can also play a role. “We will try to understand why this happens because if we can understand why it is different, it will be easier to make public health recommendations on what to do about it,” said Crick.
For the study, researchers evaluated HPV infection and persistence in college-age women enrolled at the University of South Carolina. The study began in 2004 and women were followed throughout the university years. The HPV status was assessed every six months in cervical sample samples from 326 white women and 113 black women.
The researchers found that the rate of new high-risk HPV infections was similar between the two groups of women, but at any visit, black women were 1.5 times more likely to develop HPV. In addition, 56 percent of black women are still infected two years after diagnosis of the disease for the first time, compared to 24 percent of white women.
The results will be presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cancer Research in Chicago.
Black women are 40 percent more likely to develop cervical cancer and die twice as long as white or American women, Crick said. This discrepancy is often attributed to the lack of access to medical care, but the authors say their findings suggest a biological basis for different rates.
Creek said that a regular cervical test is the best way to prevent cervical cancer. A sample of exposed cells of the cervix is examined under a microscope. If abnormal or cancerous cells are detected, steps can be taken to prevent them from becoming cancer.
HPV vaccines provide protection against the four types of HPV that cause most types of cervical cancer. It is now recommended that these vaccines be used for girls 11 and 12 years old and for girls between 13 and 26 years old who did not receive any vaccine against HPV or all when they were younger. Vaccinations can be given to girls as young as nine years old.
“American women of African descent may benefit more than vaccines against the human papilloma virus (HPV),” Crick said.
Dr. Diana Contreras, director of oncology at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York, New York, said it was too early to draw conclusions about the detection and treatment of HPV in black women.
“We are beginning to understand that HPV can behave differently in different ethnic groups,” he said. “This study is very provocative, but the jury is still out of the examination and treatment, and we have to be careful to draw many conclusions.”
The data and conclusions of the research presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-review journal.