Study finds 'alarming' rates of HPV prevalence among American Indian women

November 1, 2018 by Heidi Toth, Northern Arizona University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A just-released study found that American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) women are at greater risk of HPV and cervical cancer than their white counterparts.

Naomi Lee, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Northern Arizona University, was a co-author on the study, "Human Papillomavirus Prevalence Among American Indian Women of the Great Plains," published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases of the Oxford University Press, the largest university press worldwide. The study was predicated on previous findings that incidence of and mortality among AIAN from the Great Plains was twice as high as incidence and mortality among white women. HPV is a contributor to cervical cancer, but prior to this study there was little information about its prevalence in this community and other AIAN communities throughout the United States.

The study used data from a self-collected vaginal swab of women throughout a Native American reservation along with a self-administered, culturally tailored survey, asking about general health and sexual history, education and living situation, among other demographic questions. The researchers found almost 35 percent of the respondents had one of the 14 high-risk HPV genotypes assessed, compared to almost 21 percent of women in same age range (14-59) in the .

The prevalence of HPV infections among women age 21 to 24 years old was comparable to the general population. Approximately 90 percent of infected individuals cleared the infection in two years; therefore, the prevalence of infection typically declines as the population aged.

However, in this AIAN community, the prevalence remained elevated among women older than 30 years.

"Prior studies that included AIAN women from the Great Plains region showed that AIAN women had a higher prevalence than white women from the same area," Lee said. "What we found both surprising and alarming was the increased prevalence, particularly among women aged 30 years and older. In the general population, HPV prevalence rapidly declines across age groups, but in this community the prevalence remained elevated by three- to fourfold compared to other studies."

Specifically, the rate of high-risk HPV among women 50-65 years old was almost four times higher than participants in the same age group in the general population.

"We suggest that the higher prevalence of hrHPV observed in our sample might account for the cervical cancer disparities noted in the Great Plains region of the Indian Health Service," the paper reads. "Although the elevated prevalence of hrHPV and cervical cancer among older American Indian women remains unexplained, findings from low-resource regions around the world suggest that both age-related immune senescence and low rates of screening could be contributing factors."

The researchers also found that prevalence wasn't the same for every community; American Indian women in Arizona had lower prevalence of infection than similar groups in South Dakota.

In addition, according to data from the Indian Health Services, younger participants also were more likely to be vaccinated against HPV.

Lee said the next steps for AIAN communities is for health care workers and researchers to focus on increased cancer screenings, especially among older and higher-risk women. The research team also will evaluate risk factors associated with HPV prevalence and are seeking tribal approval to conduct viral genomic and vaginal microbiota analyses.

"Communities need to continually promote HPV vaccination among adolescents and should participate in clinical trials for next-generation vaccines," she said. "Also, HPV is a main contributing factor to cervical cancer, but future research is needed on contributing factors to HPV persistence and progression."

They also plan to present these findings to the tribal community in the spring.

The project was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the Partnerships for Native Health at Washington State University (WSU). Lee took part in the study as part of the Native Investigator Development Program, which is funded by the NIH and sponsored through the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and WSU. Her role in the project was conducting the primary data analyses and drafting the manuscript. Lee and her colleagues plan to conduct further analyses from the study.

Lee's research focuses on novel vaccine development using self-assembling peptides and virus-like particles to target various sexually transmitted infections. She also focuses her work on improving the health care of American Indian and Alaska Native populations through health disparities research, STEM education and mentoring.

Explore further: More women need to be screened for cervical cancer

More information: Naomi R Lee et al. Human Papillomavirus Prevalence Among American Indian Women of the Great Plains, The Journal of Infectious Diseases (2018). DOI: 10.1093/infdis/jiy600

Related Stories

More women need to be screened for cervical cancer

October 17, 2018
Up to 30 per cent of Canadian women are not being regularly screened for cervical cancer, and the lapse is resulting in unnecessary cases of cervical cancer every year, say University of Alberta obstetrics and gynecology ...

Q&A: Women 65 and older may not need Pap tests

September 21, 2018
Dear Mayo Clinic: I am way past my childbearing years and do not have any health problems. Do I need to continue getting Pap smears? At what age is this test no longer necessary?

Urban American-Indian, Alaskan natives may have lower survival following invasive cancer

November 29, 2017
Compared with the non-Hispanic white (NHW) population, the urban American-Indian and Alaskan Native (AIAN) community was more likely to have lower survival rates following invasive prostate and breast cancer.

Prevalence of oral HPV infection higher for U.S. men

October 17, 2017
(HealthDay)—Oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and high-risk oral HPV infection are more common among men than women, according to a study published online Oct. 16 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Oncogenic oral HPV DNA detected in 3.5 percent of adults

October 20, 2017
(HealthDay)—Men have a higher prevalence of oncogenic oral human papillomavirus (HPV) than women, and prevalence increases with the number of lifetime oral sexual partners and tobacco use, according to a study published ...

Reduction in HPV in young women in England seen, following national immunization program

April 13, 2014
Each year around 2,000-2,500 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England, the most common cancer in women under 35. Infection with high-risk human papillomavirus (HR HPV) types 16 and 18 is responsible for around ...

Recommended for you

From the ashes of a failed pain drug, a new therapeutic path emerges

November 16, 2018
In 2013, renowned Boston Children's Hospital pain researcher Clifford Woolf, MB, BCh, Ph.D., and chemist Kai Johnsson, Ph.D., his fellow co-founder at Quartet Medicine, believed they held the key to non-narcotic pain relief. ...

Repurposing FDA-approved drugs can help fight back breast cancer

November 16, 2018
Screening Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved compounds for their ability to stop cancer growth in the lab led to the finding that the drug flunarizine can slow down the growth of triple-negative breast cancer in ...

Traditional chemotherapy superior to new alternative for oropharyngeal cancers

November 16, 2018
A drug increasingly used in combination with radiotherapy to treat a type of cancer that forms in the tonsils or the base of the tongue is inferior to a previously favored option, according to a large, clinical trial led ...

New 'SLICE' tool can massively expand immune system's cancer-fighting repertoire

November 15, 2018
Immunotherapy can cure some cancers that until fairly recently were considered fatal. In addition to developing drugs that boost the immune system's cancer-fighting abilities, scientists are becoming expert at manipulating ...

Anti-malaria drugs have shown promise in treating cancer, and now researchers know why

November 15, 2018
Anti-malaria drugs known as chloroquines have been repurposed to treat cancer for decades, but until now no one knew exactly what the chloroquines were targeting when they attack a tumor. Now, researchers from the Abramson ...

Standard chemotherapy treatment for HPV-positive throat cancer remains the most effective, study finds

November 15, 2018
A new study funded by Cancer Research UK and led by the University of Birmingham has found that the standard chemotherapy used to treat a specific type of throat cancer remains the most effective.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.