College-age African-American women may have a tougher time clearing their bodies of human papillomavirus (HPV) and have more abnormal Pap test results than their European-American counterparts, a recent study reports.
Lead researcher Kim E. Creek, Ph.D., a professor at the University of South Carolina, and other colleagues conducted the Carolina Women’s Care Study to better gather information on HPV exposure and the effects of the virus in female students at the university. The team began the study in 2004 and followed the women throughout their college years. Of the women researched and considered high risk candidates for HPV, 326 White women and 113 Black women provided Pap test results every six months. Although exposure to the condition was about the same, Creek’s team discovered alarming findings among Black women.
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They were 1.5 times more likely to test positive for high-risk HPV results. Fifty-six percent of African-American women were shown to be infected two years after the initial infection compared to 24 percent of European-American women. African-American women were 1.7 times more likely to have an abnormal Pap test as well. Ahead of Creek and her team presenting their findings this last Sunday at the American Association for Cancer Research conference in Chicago, she offered a bold statement:
“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.”
If the study results are indeed confirmed by further research, this may inspire a call for more young African-American girls to take the controversial HPV vaccine. As of now, the drugs Gardasil and Cervarix are the only two on the market. Doctors recommend girls begin taking the drugs at age 11.