Background. Cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates are higher in African Americans than in European Americans (white, non-Hispanic of European ancestry). The reasons for this disparity are not known.
Methods. We recruited a population-based longitudinal cohort of 326 European American and 113 African American female college freshmen in Columbia, South Carolina, to compare clearance of high-risk human papillomavirus (HR-HPV) infection between ethnicities. HPV testing and typing from samples obtained for Papanicolaou testing occurred every 6 months.
Results. African American participants had an increased risk of testing positive for HR-HPV, compared with European American participants, but the frequency of incident HPV infection was the same in African American and European American women. Thus, exposure to HPV could not explain the higher rate of HPV positivity among African American women. The time required for 50% of participants to clear HR-HPV infection was 601 days for African American women (n = 63) and 316 days for European American women (n = 178; odds ratio [OR], 1.61; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.08–2.53). African American women were more likely than European American women to have an abnormal result of a Papanicolaou test (OR, 1.58; 95% CI, 1.05–2.39).
Conclusions. We propose that the longer time to clearance of HR-HPV among African American women leads to increased rates of abnormal results of Papanicolaou tests and contributes to the increased rates of cervical cancer observed in African American women.