Background: Low socioeconomic status (SES) is a reported risk factor for cervical carcinoma, but few studies have taken into account adequately the possibly confounding effects of oncogenic human papillomavirus (HPV) infection as well as access to screening and subsequent treatment.
Methods: Women (n = 5060 women) with a mean age of 27.5 years and with equivocal or mild cytologic cervical abnormalities were enrolled in the Atypical Squamous Cells of Undetermined Significance/Low-Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion (ASCUS-LSIL) Triage Study (ALTS), a clinical trial that evaluated management strategies. The women were seen every 6 months for 2 years. The enrollment questionnaire assessed three indicators of SES: race/ethnicity, education, and source of payment for medical care. Multivariate logistic regression models were used to identify predictors of oncogenic HPV DNA positivity at enrollment and to assess associations between the SES indicators and risk of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 3 (precancer) and carcinoma (> or = CIN3) identified throughout the study (n = 506 women) among oncogenic HPV-positive women (n = 3133 women).
Results: SES indicators were not associated significantly with oncogenic HPV infection after adjustment for age at enrollment, recent and lifetime number of sexual partners, study center, and smoking history. Among women with oncogenic HPV, the risk of > or = CIN3 increased with decreasing education (less than high school education: odds ratio [OR], 2.4; 95% confidence interval [95%CI], 1.5-3.7 vs. completed college). Black women (OR, 0.5; 95%CI, 0.4-0.7) and white/Hispanic women (OR, 0.4; 95%CI, 0.2-0.8) were at decreased risk for > or = CIN3 compared with white/non-Hispanic women. The source of payment for medical care was not associated with risk.
Conclusions: Factors associated with lower SES, such as low education, may serve as a surrogate for unknown factors that influence progression to > or = CIN3 among women with oncogenic HPV infection. In this controlled setting with equalized follow-up and treatment, the decreased risk of > or = CIN3 associated with black and white/Hispanic race/ethnicity could be further examined. Ongoing efforts should emphasize methods for equalizing screening and follow-up among women of varying SES, regardless of race or ethnicity.