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.
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
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.
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:
Other cancers caused by viruses can also be linked to an increased risk when living with HIV, such as:
For other common types of cancers there are no increased risks, these include:
The good news is that being on HIV medication can reduce the risk of some cancers.
Your healthcare team can assess your risk of some cancers; they might:
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:
Speak to your healthcare team if you have any concerns or questions about what else you can do to look after your health.