Antiretroviral Therapy Lowers HIV Cancer Risk

HAART May Prevent Some Cancers Associated With HIV

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 15, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

March 15, 2005 - Treating HIV infection with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) may help prevent some of the cancers most frequently associated with HIV and AIDS, a new study suggests.

Several studies have indicated that people with AIDS have an increased risk of several cancers, including Kaposi's sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and others.

But this study suggests that treatment with HAART may prevent most of the Kaposi's sarcoma andnon-Hodgkin's lymphoma cases attributed to AIDS, even though the risk of these and other cancers remains high in HIV-infected individuals.

HAART is the most effective treatment available for HIV and consists of a combination of several antiretroviral drugs that are designed to keep levels of the virus as low as possible in the body for as long as possible to prevent progression to full-blown AIDS.

HAART May Reduce Cancer Risks

In the study, which appears in the March 16 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers analyzed Swiss data on cancer rates among more than 7,300 people infected with HIV and compared them to the general population.

The study showed that people with HIV had a much higher risk of Kaposi's sarcoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. They also had an increased risk of anal cancer; Hodgkin's lymphoma; cervical cancer; liver cancer; cancer of the lip, mouth, and pharynx; and nonmelanoma skin cancer.

People infected with HIV who were treated with HAART had lower risks of Kaposi's sarcoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma compared with those who did not use HAART. For example, the risk of Kaposi's sarcoma was about 10 times greater among those who did not use HAART, and the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was about four times greater.

However, the risk of these cancers was still about 20 times greater than in people without HIV.

Use of HAART was not associated with lower risks of other cancers.

Researchers say the study also showed that HIV-infected people had higher risks of smoking-related cancers, including cancers of the lung, lip, mouth, and pharynx, but none of these cancers were found among nonsmokers.

In an editorial that accompanies the study, Eric A. Engels, MD, and James J. Goedert, MD, of the National Cancer Institute, say that continued study of the unique cancer risks facing people with HIV and AIDS will also give researchers new clues about cancer "to the benefit of all."

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SOURCES: Clifford, G. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, March 16, 2005; vol 97: pp 425-432. News release, Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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