HIV and Cancer: Everything You Need to Know

HIV and Cancer: Everything You Need to Know

cancer care


HIV and cancer are interlinked. People with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection or AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) are more likely to develop some types of cancer than people who are not infected because an HIV infection weakens a person’s immune system. This may contribute to developing certain types of cancers, including cervical cancer, Kaposi sarcoma, and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

AIDS-Defining Cancers and Their Causes and Symptoms

Kaposi Sarcoma

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reveals that people with HIV are 500 times more likely to develop Kaposi sarcoma. It is a blood vessel cancer and causes lesions in lymph nodes, skin, lungs, liver, digestive tract, and spleen. Antiretroviral therapy and maintaining a healthy immune system can reduce the risk of Kaposi sarcoma.


Kaposi sarcoma is caused by human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8). The virus spreads through physical contact and saliva.


The symptoms of Kaposi sarcoma include the following:

  • Unexplained cough or chest pain
  • Slightly elevated brown, pink, red, or purple bumps or blotches in the mouth, throat, or on the skin
  • Diarrhea or blockage of the digestive tract caused by lesions developed in the gastrointestinal system
  • Unexplained stomach or intestinal pain
  • Lymphedema (Swelling in an arm or leg)

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)

According to NCI, people with HIV are 12 times more likely to develop Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Lymphoma begins when cells in the lymphatic system grow uncontrollably and form a tumor. There are many types of NHL, but people with HIV/ AIDS may develop these types:

  • Primary central nervous system lymphoma that affects the brain
  • Aggressive B-cell lymphomas
  • Primary effusion lymphoma, causing fluid to accumulate in the abdomen or around the lungs or heart


The Epstein-Barr virus causes NHL.


NHL generally has the following symptoms:

  • Enlarged spleen or liver
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, neck, underarms, or abdomen
  • Sweating and chills
  • Unexplained fever

Cervical Cancer

NCI reveals that women with HIV are three times more likely to develop cervical cancer. Specifically, women have an increased risk of developing cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), which is a precancerous growth of cells in the cervix.


Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection causes cervical cancer.


Symptoms of cervical cancer are:

  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Abnormal menstrual bleeding
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Bleeding after douching, intercourse, or a pelvic examination

Other less common cancers that people with HIV/ AIDS may develop are:

  • Lung cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Anal cancer
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Skin cancer
  • Angiosarcoma
  • Testicular cancer
  • Mouth and throat cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Penile cancer

How to Reduce Your Cancer Risk

Follow these tips to reduce your HIV/ AIDS-related cancer risk.

  • Take Your HIV Medicine

    HIV reduces the count of CD4+ T-cells that help fight infection. Take your medication as prescribed to increase your cell count and reduce your risk of cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma and lymphoma.

  • Be Aware of Other Viruses

    A person with both HIV and hepatitis virus are more likely to develop liver cancer. However, there are antiviral drugs that can control hepatitis and HIV. Consult with your doctor on what is best for your care.

  • Quit Smoking

    Smoking causes lung cancers and increases the risk of developing other cancers such as head, neck, and cervical cancer. Also, it can cause health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and emphysema. Lung cancer increases cancer-related deaths in people with HIV, so quit smoking to reduce your risk.

  • Regular Screenings

    Cancer is manageable, and its treatment can be effective if it is diagnosed at an early stage. Therefore, people with HIV should have regular cancer screenings, especially if they notice any cancer symptoms. People living with HIV should follow the same procedure for screening colon and breast cancers as people without HIV. Annual digital rectal examinations should also be conducted to detect anal cancer at an early stage.

Cancer Treatment

If you have HIV and are diagnosed with cancer, it is essential to find an experienced oncologist specializing in treating your cancer for the best results. The treatment for cancer in people with HIV and without HIV would be the same. According to a Hodgkin lymphoma study, the overall survival rate was the same when patients received the same chemotherapy treatment despite having an HIV infection.

Call us or visit our website today to schedule an appointment if you are looking for experienced oncologists in Maryland.

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COHA is a leading group of oncologists that offer oncology services within Anne Arundel County, Howard County, and Queen Anne’s County, Maryland. We remain committed to bringing the best oncology and hematology services to the residents of this area. Our knowledge, skills, and experience will guide you toward the best treatment options for your health and lifestyle. We offer today’s most effective therapies, expertly and compassionately delivered in our infusion and medical centers.

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