AIDS-Associated Cancers: Diagnosis & Treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering

Pictured: Ariela Noy & Elisa Malek Medical oncologist Ariela Noy (seated) and nurse Elisa Malek check lab results for a patient with AIDS-related lymphoma.

As a comprehensive cancer center, Memorial Sloan Kettering has medical oncologists, infectious disease specialists, and other physicians with world-class expertise in diagnosing AIDS-related cancers.

Our team includes specialists in cancer as well as infectious disease who have insight into the special needs of people with HIV. We create robust, individualized treatment plans for each patient with an AIDS-related cancer and are often able to provide intensive therapies that help to control or eliminate it.

Through the work of our researchers and others, we foresee a future in which treatments will effectively control the viral infections that can lead to some cancers and also boost the immune system to improve survival.   

We have been a major participant and leader in the National Cancer Institute–supported clinical trials group to work on innovative trials for AIDS-related cancers — the AIDS Malignancy Consortium — since its inception in 1995.

Our faculty includes internationally recognized leaders in their fields, many of whom oversee major clinical trials to test innovative therapies at Memorial Sloan Kettering and elsewhere.    

Treating HIV/AIDS-Related Cancers

We recommend that people who have HIV/AIDS and cancer take highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to prevent the cancer from returning. Your doctors will work with you to develop the best treatment strategy with the fewest side effects possible.

Anal Cancer and HIV

Because anal cancer can develop in people infected with certain types of human papilloma virus (HPV), we actively screen for this virus in our HIV-infected patients and are researching ways to halt the disease before it spreads. In addition to screening with Pap smears, we can look directly at the anal area and aggressively treat early (preinvasive) lesions. We can often cure early anal cancer through local methods and chemotherapy, or with radiation if the disease is more extensive.   

Cervical Cancer and HIV

Because women infected with certain types of HPV are at high risk for developing invasive cervical cancer, we actively screen our patients with HIV for this virus using Pap smears. We are also researching ways to treat the cancer before it spreads. We may recommend surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation for women with cervical cancer that has spread.

Kaposi Sarcoma (KS) and HIV

Although no longer the most common cancer in people with HIV/AIDS in the United States, this soft tissue sarcoma is still widespread in the developing world. KS, caused by infection with a particular type of herpes virus called HHV-8, usually appears as distinctive flat and painless lesions on the skin, mucous membranes, and gastrointestinal tract.

Memorial Sloan Kettering was one of the nation’s first cancer centers to diagnose and treat people with AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma. We offer an unparalleled level of expertise in treating the illness, with a goal of helping patients achieve long-term remission

Liver Cancer and HIV

People with HIV who are also infected with the hepatitis B or C virus have an increased risk for hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer. Our doctors usually treat and are able to cure early-stage liver cancer with surgery to remove the diseased tissue, or with a liver transplant. For patients with larger tumors or multiple tumors that have spread outside the liver, we typically recommend treatment with systemic chemotherapy.

Lung Cancer and HIV

Lung cancer is common in people with HIV, particularly those who use tobacco. Our lung cancer team provides comprehensive, personalized care tailored to each patient’s needs, and our tobacco cessation program provides assistance, medication, and counseling to smokers trying to quit.

Lymphomas and HIV

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) — a diverse group of cancers that develop in the lymph nodes, blood, bone marrow, and other organs and tissues of the immune system — is up to 50 times more common in people with HIV. Experts at Memorial Sloan Kettering provide highly specialized care for people with NHL. Treatment outcomes have improved greatly since the advent of HAART, and many people with HIV-associated NHL can be cured with chemotherapy.

Hodgkin lymphoma, also common in people with HIV, also responds well to standard chemotherapy combined with HAART.

High-dose chemotherapy with self-donated stem cell transplant (autologous transplant) may be an option for people whose lymphoma returns after initial treatment. Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering are studying the effectiveness of transplanting donated stem cells in selected individuals; more information about this topic is available in our guide on Bone & Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation