While deaths related to HIV/AIDS have officially declined due to improved HIV therapies, individuals with HIV or AIDS remain at elevated risk for cancer and cancer-related deaths throughout their lives.

Medical Specialist Holdings, a South African-based company specialising in support services to oncology practices across Africa, has provided some insight on the casual link between cancer and AIDS and how immune-compromised individuals may reduce their risk.

Why are HIV positive people at a higher risk of developing cancer?

HIV-infected individuals have an increased propensity to develop malignancy. Certain cancers occur with such a high incidence among HIV infected individuals that they have been included as AIDS-related or AIDS-defining malignancies by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. These include:

  • Kaposi sarcoma, which causes lesions to grow in the skin, lymph nodes, internal organs and mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose and throat.
  • Invasive cervical cancer, which originates in the cervix and may spread to organs or tissues within pelvis or to other parts of the body.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a group of blood cancers that develop from lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.

Multiple factors contribute to this increased risk, including chronic immunosuppression, direct effects of the HIV virus itself, various environmental factors, and co-infection with other oncogenic or cancer-causing viruses such as the Epstein Barr virus (EBV), Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Hepatitis B and C, as well as human herpesvirus 8 (HHV8).

What can individuals with HIV do to reduce their risk?

The two most effective ways in which individuals with HIV can reduce their risk of developing an HIV-related malignancy is to adhere to a prescribed antiretroviral therapy schedule, and follow the existing protocols for early detection.

This includes regular doctor’s visits to check for the early markers associated with cancer in general, as well as those that have been found to be more prevalent among the HIV-positive population.

If an HIV positive person would like more information regarding the casual link between cancer and AIDS, they should reach out to their physician. Each case is unique, and their risk profile is dependent on their overall health, treatment schedule, family history and countless other variables. By tackling the challenges of their condition head-on, they will able to develop a better understanding of what they can do to protect their health and wellbeing.

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