AIDS/HIV-related cancers continue to be the subject of extensive research. At the OSUCCC – James AIDS/HIV Cancer Clinic, expert cancer and infectious disease researchers focus on ways to prevent, diagnose and treat AIDS/HIV-related diseases and disorders.
In fact, research experts at the OSUCCC – James are working on a vaccine that could actually prevent the Epstein-Barr virus — a potent cancer-causing virus. Other preventive research involves a new class of drugs, currently in phase I trials, that may help prevent gliomas (brain tumors), certain lung cancers, stomach cancer, acute myeloid leukemia and some lymphomas.
People infected with HIV have a higher risk than uninfected people of developing certain cancers. The virus weakens the patient’s immune system and reduces the body's ability to fight infections that may lead to cancer.
A weakened immune system caused by HIV infection, infection with other viruses, and traditional risk factors (such as smoking) contributes to a higher risk for such cancers as Kaposi sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, throat cancer, oral cancers, anal cancer, cervical cancers, colon cancer, lung cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma and skin cancers.
A diagnosis of any of these cancers marks the point at which HIV infection has progressed to AIDS.
Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) and lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of some types of cancer in HIV-infected people. In fact, taking HAART as indicated lowers the risk of Kaposi sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and it can increase overall survival rates.
The risk for lung cancer can be reduced by quitting smoking. Because HIV-infected people have a higher risk of lung cancer, it is especially important not to smoke.
HIV-infected women have a higher risk of cervical cancer, so regular screening for cervical cancer is important.
The higher incidence of liver cancer among HIV-infected patients is likely related to a hepatitis virus infection (particularly hepatitis C) and also to alcohol abuse. HIV-infected patients should know their hepatitis status, and if blood tests show that they have previously been infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C, they should reduce or eliminate drinking alcohol.
Patients with viral hepatitis should discuss with their specialist whether or not hepatitis B– or hepatitis C–suppressing therapy is an option for them. Some drugs may be used for both hepatitis B–suppressing therapy and HAART.