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Cervical Cancer Vaccine Might be Less Effective for Black Women

Update Date: Oct 29, 2013 03:01 PM EDT

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Some strains of HPV can lead to genital warts while others can cause cancers. Due to these risks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all girls and boys get the HPV vaccine at the age of 11 through to 21 for boys and 26 for girls. Even though the vaccine can protect girls and boys from HPV, a new study is reporting that the vaccine is not effective for all. According to this study, the HPV vaccine might not protect against HPV as effectively for black women.

"It looks like we have different strains by race," an associate professor in Duke University's obstetrics and gynecology department, Cathrine Hoyo said according to NBC News. "African-American women are about 20 percent more likely to develop cervical cancer and almost twice as likely to die from the disease compared with non-Hispanic White women."

For this study, Hoyo and her colleagues examined 516 women who were being tested after their pap smears came back abnormal. The tests were focused on identifying changes in cells that would indicate cancer. If these tests found changes, the women would need a follow-up with a colonoscopy in which doctors remove the damaged cells to test for cancer and HPV.

The researchers found that over 70 percent of the women tested positive for HPV. The majority of them had more than one strain. The researchers found the common strains were different for white women when compared to black women. White women tended to be infected with HPV 16, 18, 31 and 45 whereas black women had HPV 33, 35, 58 and 68. The researchers believe that the difference between the strains explain why black women do not get protected from the HPV vaccine.

"African-American women were half as likely to carry HPV 18," Hoyo explained.

The current vaccines available, which are Merck's Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix, protect against HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18. Due to the fact that black and white women do not share similar HPV infections, a new vaccine is being developed. Merck plans on creating a new HPV vaccine that would protect against a total of nine strains, adding protection against HPV 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58. The researchers believe that regardless of race, all women should continue to get vaccinated and get vaccinated once more when the new vaccine comes out.

The findings were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting. 

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