Font Size: A A A

The HIV/AIDS Cancer Link

12 December, 2016

Yes, there is a link between HIV/AIDS and cancer.

Isn’t that the way with chronic diseases? They hit you when you’re down.

There are a couple of ways that HIV/AIDS and cancer are linked. The first is a substantially increased risk of some types of cancers known as “AIDS-defining malignancies.” These include Kaposi sarcoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and cervical cancer. An HIV infection is considered progressed to AIDS after a diagnosis of any of these three cancers. A Kaposi sarcoma diagnosis is actually several thousand times more likely in an HIV-infected person, and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma is 70 times more likely. Among HIV-infected women cervical cancer is five times more likely.

The other link between cancer and HIV is an increased risk for a handful of other types of cancers, including anal, liver, and lung cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. These are not considered AIDS-defining, however the risk for these cancers in HIV-infected persons is anywhere from three to 25 times higher.

HIV is an infection that weakens the immune system, which when healthy helps the body to fight infections that may lead to cancer. And, many people that are infected with HIV are also infected with viruses that can lead to cancer, including human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses (HBV and HCV), Epstein Barr virus (EBV), and human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8). Other risk factors for cancer among HIV-infected people include smoking and heavy alcohol use, which are more common in those with HIV.

In the mid-1990s the development of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) reduced the incidence of some cancers among HIV-infected people by reducing the amount of HIV in the blood and allowing for some immune function to be restored. However not all cancers were reduced. While taking HAART can help HIV-infected people lower their risk of some cancers, traditional prevention activities should also be practiced. This includes quitting smoking and drinking only moderately or not at all. Therapies for HBV or HCV should be considered for those with hepatitis infection as well. Regular cancer screening can help find and treat other cancers, such as cervical cancer, more easily.

Here are a few quick facts about HIV/AIDS and cancer in Nevada.

  • As of 2013, 7,689 people were living with HIV in Nevada, about 84% men and 16% women.
  • In 2013, 131 people diagnosed with HIV died.
  • While not all cases of certain types of cancers are HIV/AIDS-related, Nevada does have a higher rate of disease and death from cancers that are also related to having HIV/AIDS.
  • In Nevada, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the 5th most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and 6th most common in women. It also ranks 9th for cancer deaths in men and 7th for cancer deaths in women.
  • In Nevada, liver cancers ranks 5th for men and 8th for women in cause of cancer deaths.
  • Lung cancer in Nevada is the 2nd most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among men and women.

For more information, visit the National Cancer Institute online, and check out AIDSVu for state-specific HIV/AIDS data.

Information adapted from National Cancer Institute “HIV and Cancer Risk”, Dec. 1, 2016.