HIV AND CANCER
You know your HIV viral load but do you know your cancer risk?
Whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with HIV for many years, you can find information here about cancer risk and how to monitor your health, to enjoy lifelong good health with HIV.
Read below to find out more about:
- What can cause cancer and the risk factors
- Different types of cancer to be aware of
- A real-life story about living with HIV, including why it’s important to understand your cancer risk
- What to do if you are already living with cancer
To help you plan for your next appointment and helpful questions to ask, go to What To Ask for tips and downloadable questions.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
SMOKING AND ALCOHOL
Some traditional risk factors for cancer, such as smoking (a known cause of lung cancer) and heavy alcohol use (which can increase the risk of liver cancer), are high among people living with HIV. Smoking and drinking too much alcohol cause about 40% of all cancers and people with HIV are three times as likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer compared to HIV negative people.
Stopping smoking and cutting down on how much alcohol you drink is important in reducing your risk of cancer. Visit the Men’s Health or Women’s Health pages for information about smoking and alcohol.
THE HIV VIRUS ITSELF
Because HIV can weaken the immune system it can reduce the body's ability to fight infections that may lead to cancer. Many people living with HIV may also have other viruses that cause certain cancers.
Viruses that can cause cancer
- Human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) is the cause of Kaposi sarcoma
- Epstein Barr virus (EBV) (a virus associated with glandular fever) causes some subtypes of non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause eye, vaginal, penile or anal cancer, as well as some types of head and neck cancer
- Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) both can cause liver cancer
Infection with most of these viruses is more common among people living with HIV than among uninfected people, so it is important to be screened regularly. Speak to your healthcare team for more information about screening.
The good news is that being on HIV medication can reduce the risk of cancers caused by infections, as well as those that are more likely in people with a low CD4 count – specifically, Kaposi’s sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
HEAR AXEL'S STORY
- There are more than 100 different types of cancer. Cancer starts when cells change in an abnormal way
- Regardless of whether or not you have HIV, cancer is common throughout Europe
- Spotting the signs of cancer as early as possible can help you get the most out of your treatment
CAN HIV CAUSE CANCER?
The relationship between HIV and cancer is complex. Some types of cancer are more common in people living with HIV than those without HIV, these include:
- Kaposi sarcoma
- Non-Hodgkin-lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma – both are blood cancers that can affect people with weakened immune systems
- Cervical cancer (the entrance to the womb from the vagina)
Other cancers caused by viruses can also be linked to an increased risk when living with HIV, such as:
- Liver cancers (related to hepatitis B or C virus)
- Hodgkin lymphoma (having had glandular fever in the past can put you at a slightly increased risk)
- Cancers that affect moist membranes such as anal cancer that are linked to human papilloma virus (HPV)
For other common types of cancers there are no increased risks, these include:
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Colorectal cancer (bowel and colon)
The good news is that being on HIV medication can reduce the risk of some cancers.
AM I AT RISK?
Your healthcare team can assess your risk of some cancers; they might:
- Review your lifestyle choices, particularly diet, smoking and exercise, to identify where changes can be made
- Screen for cervical, liver, prostate, breast and colorectal cancer, as appropriate to your sex and age
- Ask you if you have ever had cancer in the past
- Ask you if you have or have had any family members diagnosed with cancer
WHAT IF I AM ALREADY LIVING WITH CANCER?
Your specialist team will be aware of any additional things to think about if you have cancer and whether you need more regular check-ups than someone without HIV. They may review your cancer treatment plan and any other medications you are taking to make sure you are on the most suitable HIV treatment for you.
They may also ask about your lifestyle choices to ensure you:
- Keep a healthy and balanced diet
- Try to quit or cut down if you smoke
- Drink less alcohol
- Keep up daily exercise
Speak to your healthcare team if you have any concerns or questions about what else you can do to look after your health.