(HealthDay News) – College-age African-American women clear human papillomavirus (HPV) infection much more slowly than similarly aged European-American women, and are almost twice as likely to have an abnormal Pap smear, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, held from March 31 to April 4 in Chicago.

Amy R. Messersmith, PhD, and colleagues from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, assessed HPV infection and persistence in 326 college-age European-American women and 113 college-age African-American women. Cervical cells were collected every six months and screened for HPV.

Although the incidence of new high-risk HPV infection was similar in both groups, the researchers found that, at any visit, African-American women were 1.5 times more likely to test positive for high-risk HPV. African-American women cleared the virus significantly more slowly, with 56% remaining infected after 24 months, compared with only 24% of European-American women. In addition, African-American women were 1.7 times more likely to have an abnormal Pap smear.

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“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,” coauthor Kim E. Creek, PhD, said in a statement. “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.”

One of the authors is on the speakers’ bureau for Merck.

Abstract No. 550

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