There is a mixed bag of news when it comes to HIV associated cancers. While the instances of AIDS-defining cancers, or the cancers typically associated with AIDS progression: Kaposi sarcoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and invasive cervical cancer, have decreased, instances of other types of cancers in HIV infected patients has increased, resulting in a virtual offset. Nonetheless, progress has been made when it comes to longevity in HIV patients. Highly active antiretroviral therapy has improved quality of life for HIV-infected patients, including lengthening life expectancy and reducing the risk of AIDS progression. While this is good news, what isn’t good news is the noticeable increase in other types of cancers.
Between 1991 and 1995, about 34,000 cases of AIDS-defining cancers were present in HIV-infected patients; this number dropped to around 10,000 ten years later (between 2001 and 2005). This is a positive indication of the antiretroviral medication working and helping to delay the progression from HIV to AIDS. However, the instances of other cancers skyrocketed. About 3,000 cases of other cancers were found in HIV patients from 1991 to 1995; that number jumped to 10,000 cases ten years later. Since 2003, the number of non-AIDS-defining cancers has exceeded the number of AIDS-defining and HIV associated cancers. While some of this can be attributed to the general aging of the population, it doesn’t explain it entirely.
Those with HIV infection are highly susceptible to cancers that are not AIDS-defining or HIV associated cancers, such as Hodgkin lymphoma, anal cancer, lung cancer, and liver cancer. About half of all cancers diagnosed in HIV patients between 2001 and 2005 are one or more of these four cancers. In fact, there were eight times more anal cancers, twice as many lung cancers, twice as many Hodgkin lymphomas, and five times as many liver cancers diagnosed in HIV patients between 2001 and 2005 as opposed to 1991 to 1995.
There is indeed an increase in persons over age 40, and cancer tends to show up more often at older ages. That notwithstanding, the overall number of HIV associated cancers decreasing is a good sign that the current medical treatments to fight HIV are working in some capacity. While research continues to progress toward a potential cure, the treatments currently available have improved and lengthened the lives of many people who are living every day with HIV. This is an important point to remember. However, the number of non-HIV associated cancers increasing is something to recognize and be aware of.