Reading time: 3 minutes
Roughly 37.7 million individuals on Earth by the end of 2020 have been living with HIV — human immunodeficiency virus — which targets and weakens the human body’s immune system when not properly controlled or treated. As a result, this impaired immune system can cause people to become immunodeficient, and therefore more vulnerable to a range of other diseases. The most complex and lethal stage of HIV infection is AIDS — acquired immunodeficiency syndrome — which further interferes with the body’s ability to fight infections. There is no current cure for AIDS; however, the combination of three or more antiretroviral drugs (known as antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been utilized as a treatment to suppress the viral replication. This can allow the human body’s immune system to strengthen and fight off potential infections; significant improvements in HIV research and treatment means that taking prescribed ART can lead to the virus being undetectable and untransmittable. Despite these efforts of treating individuals with HIV with ART, according to the World Health Organization roughly 680,000 people in 2020 died from HIV-related causes and 1.5 million more individuals contracted the virus. So it is clear that HIV continues to be a worldwide health issue. However in addition to the problems outlined above, HIV can also cause an increase in some forms of cancer.
As HIV weakens the body’s immune system, preventing the body from protecting itself from diseases and infections, people with HIV are at a substantially higher risk of certain types of cancers. Three kinds of cancer, which are also called AIDS-defining cancers, that are common among individuals with HIV are Kaposi’s sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and invasive cervical cancer. Kaposi’s sarcoma is a cancer that can be caused by the HHV-8; according to the New York health department, this cancer can grow purple-reddish patches on the skin and can be lethal if it forms in an individual’s lungs or throat. Additionally, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is another cancer that begins in the lymph glands (part of the immune system), which further weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections. It is known to be the “second most common malignancy in HIV-infected patients” and develops into three various kinds of entities: low, intermediate, and high-grade Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Lastly, the invasive cervical cancer affects the cervix, and almost all the women who get this cancer also have HPV or human papillomavirus (only about 2% of cervical HPV exacerbate to cervical cancer). According to Dlamini, et al., there are roughly 569,000 newly diagnosed cervical cancer cases around the world with about 311,000 deaths due to cervical cancer. However, while taking the treatment ART will reduce the likelihood of getting these cancers, the possibility of developing these types of cancers or even non-AIDS-related cancers will always be there.
HIV-associated cancers pose an increasing problem to public health; nevertheless, living a healthy lifestyle can substantially help an individual with HIV from developing these cancers. Steps can include but are not limited to quitting smoking, taking HIV medications on schedule, eating healthy foods, protecting oneself from the sun, and getting plenty of exercise. While each of these steps seem to be a small change in one’s lifestyle, they can lower one’s risk from developing these particular forms of cancer.
Edited by Kate Secombe
“About Hiv/Aids.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 June 2021, http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/whatishiv.html.
“Aids-Associated Cancers.” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/types/aids-associated.
Dlamini Z, Mbele M, Makhafola TJ, Hull R, Marima R. HIV-Associated Cancer Biomarkers: A Requirement for Early Diagnosis. Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jul 29;22(15):8127. doi: 10.3390/ijms22158127. PMID: 34360891; PMCID: PMC8348540.
“Department of Health.” HIV and Cancer: What Is the Link?, http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/aids/consumers/hiv_basics/hiv_cancer.htm.
“Hiv Infection and Cancer Risk.” National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hiv-fact-sheet.
“Hiv/Aids.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 14 July 2021, http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hiv-aids.
“How Are Hiv and Aids Related to Cancer?” American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/hiv-infection-aids/hiv-aids-and-cancer.html.