Critical illnesses like cancer and AIDS are difficult to discuss, because most of us know at least one or more friend, acquaintance or family member who have been touched by the impact of these life-altering diseases. As such, let’s start with the good news – deaths related to HIV/AIDS have officially declined due to improved HIV therapies, so there is cause for optimism on the whole.
However, it has also come to light that individuals with HIV or AIDS remain at elevated risk for cancer and cancer-related deaths throughout their lives. As always, knowledge is power, which is why Medical Specialist Holdings (a South African-based company specialising in support services to oncology practices across Africa) decided to share some insight on the casual link between cancer and AIDS and how immune-compromised individuals may reduce their risk.
Why are HIV sufferers at higher risk to develop 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 are have been included as AIDS-related or AIDS-defining malignancies by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
- 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.
But why is this so? 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 you live with HIV or AIDS and would like more information regarding the casual link between cancer and AIDS, reach out to your physician. Each case is unique, and your risk profile is dependant on your overall health, treatment schedule, family history and countless other variables. By tackling the challenges of your condition head-on, you are able to develop a better understanding of what you can do to protect your health and wellbeing, so you may continue to live a rewarding, purpose-driven life.