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HIV, AIDS, and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

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People with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) have a weakened immune system. As a result, they are more likely to develop certain cancers. This includes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Also known as AIDS-related lymphoma, this is a cancer of white blood cells. White blood cells fight infection.

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a later stage of HIV infection. Fortunately, antiretroviral therapy has cut the rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in HIV-positive people significantly.

HIV and Other Risk Factors for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

In addition to HIV, these are risk factors associated with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma:

  • Being older, male, or white
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Human T-lymphotrophic virus type 1 or Epstein-Barr virus
  • A history of H-pylori infection
  • Organ transplant
  • Exposure to certain pesticides
  • A diet high in meats and fat
  • Past treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma

How Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Develops in HIV

The longer you have a weakened immune system, the greater your chance of getting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. But you can develop this cancer even if you have a high CD4 count. CD4 cells are a type of immune system cell.

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma starts in the lymph system. This system is found throughout your body, so the cancer can show up almost anywhere. It can spread to the liver, bone, brain, abdomen, and other parts of your body. This can happen more quickly in someone with a weakened immune system.

Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

The symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can be vague. You may easily confuse them with AIDS-related symptoms. These are common symptoms of NHL:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in lymph nodes in your neck, underarm, groin, or stomach
  • Skin rash or itchy skin
  • Pain in your chest, abdomen, or bones
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