AIDS-Associated Cancers: About AIDS-Associated Cancers

The acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, results from infection with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Over time, HIV attacks and breaks down the immune system, which protects the body from infection and disease. People with a weakened immune system have an increased risk for other infections and certain types of cancer.   

Three kinds of cancer, called “AIDS-defining cancers,” are significantly more common in people with HIV: Kaposi sarcoma, certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma , and invasive cervical cancer. Taking the powerful antiretroviral drug combination HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) reduces the risk of getting these cancers but does not eliminate them.   

Survival of “non-AIDS defining cancers” common to people who have HIV, such as Hodgkin lymphoma, anal cancer, and liver cancer, is much higher if they take HAART.

Risk Factors

The risk for cancer in people with HIV/AIDS is related to a number of factors, including suppression of the immune system, infection with cancer-related viruses, and exposure to health-damaging substances such as tobacco.

Screening

Some types of cancer can be prevented with screening. Screening can also help catch cancer in an earlier stage, when it is more curable. Examples of cancer screening include cervical and anal Pap smears.