Previously, it was assumed that limited access to screening and adequate healthcare was playing a major role in African American women’s likelihood to develop the cancer. However, it is now being shown that there are deeper biological reasons that account for the disparity. For some reason, once contracted, black women have a harder time clearing Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which causes the disease.
Only certain rare strains of HPV lead to cervical cancer, and it is common for young women to encounter brief infections; most cases usually go away on their own within a year. However, when the virus remains active in the system for longer terms, it is more likely to turn into the fatal disease. Black women are having a harder time shaking the virus.
Researchers at the University of South Carolina (Columbia) conducted a health study with 326 white and 113 black students over the course of their tenure at the university. All test subjects were given pap smears and HPV tests every six months. The results found were astonishing! According to the study:
At any checkup, blacks were 1.5 times more likely to test positive for infection with one of the HPV strains that raise cancer risk.
10% of blacks had abnormal Pap tests versus 6% of whites.
Black women held the virus for an average of 18 months versus only 12 months in white women.
Two years after initial infections were found, 56% of black women were still infected versus only 24% of whites.
Study leader Kim Creek commented:
“The African-American women weren’t clearing the virus as fast. They were actually holding onto it about six months longer.”
Now of course, though the results of this particular test seem startling, it was a very small group. Further investigation and studies will have to be done on a larger scale to validate these findings. But what we can take from it all is that we need to continue getting tested, regularly, and knowing our status. According to the article by NY Daily News, “About 12,000 new cases and 4,200 deaths from cervical cancer occur each year in the United States, mostly in women who have never been screened or not in the past five years.” Those numbers are scary. Please – get tested.
Read more great black health stories at Frugivore Magazine.