HIV Positive People Are at Higher Risk for Cancer, especially Malignancies Linked to Infectious Pathogens or Smoking


People with HIV have an increased risk of developing non-AIDS-defining cancers, especially malignancies with infectious causes (such as anal and liver cancer) and those associated with tobacco smoking, according to a meta-analysis of 18 studies published in the September 17, 2009 advance online issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

A growing body of evidence indicates that people with HIV are at higher risk for several non-AIDS-defining cancers in the highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) era, even at CD4 cell levels well above the 200 cells/mm3 "danger zone."

Traditionally, only Kaposi's sarcoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and cervical cancer have been classified as AIDS-defining malignancies. However, anal cancer is caused by the same strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) as cervical cancer, and several other malignancies have a known or suspected link to infectious pathogens.

In the present study, Meredith Shiels from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and colleagues performed a meta-analysis using standardized incidence ratios (SIRs) -- a measure comparing incidence rates among HIV positive individuals and the general population -- from 18 studies of non-AIDS cancers in HIV positive people conducted between 1981 and 2007.

Using this information, they estimated summary SIRs for 34 non-AIDS malignancies among HIV positive individuals compared with general population rates, both overall and stratified by sex, AIDS diagnosis, and time of diagnosis (pre-HAART vs HAART eras).


Based on these findings, the investigators concluded, "HIV-infected individuals may be at an increased risk of developing non-AIDS cancers, particularly those associated with infections and smoking."

"An association with advanced immune suppression was suggested for certain cancers," they added.

In their discussion, however, they noted that, "it remains unclear whether HIV-infected individuals are truly at a greater risk of non-AIDS-defining cancers, or if confounding by unadjusted cancer risk factors may be responsible for the apparent elevated increase."

Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD; Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.



MS Shiels, SR Cole SR, GD Kirk, and others. A Meta-Analysis of the Incidence of Non-AIDS Cancers in HIV-Infected Individuals. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. September 17, 2009 (epub ahead of print).