Black women are much more likely than white women to die from cervical cancer, and new research could help explain why: Scientists have found that it's not just a matter of access to screening and follow-up care. According to a study reported by the Associated Press, black women also have more trouble clearing HPV, the virus that causes the disease.

From the Washington Post:

The study was presented Sunday at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in Chicago.

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Certain strains of HPV, the human papillomavirus, cause cervical cancer, but brief infections are very common in young women. They usually go away on their own within a year or so and only pose a cancer risk when they last long-term.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina in Columbia studied 326 white and 113 black students taking part in a wider federal health study. All were given Pap tests — lab exams of cells scraped from the cervix — and HPV tests every six months throughout their years in school.

Although the groups were similar in how many new HPV infections were detected and risk factors such as how many sex partners they had, doctors saw striking differences in how long their infections lasted.

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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, said study leader Kim Creek.

“The African-American women weren’t clearing the virus as fast. They were actually holding onto it about six months longer,” for 18 months versus 12 months for whites, he said.

Cervical cancer prevention specialists say if further study confirms these findings, it means the HPV vaccine is even more important or black women.

Read more at the Washington Post.