HIV Raises Risk of Lung Cancer 70 Percent in Large U.S. Veterans Group

August 2012

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What the Results Mean for You

This large, wellplanned study produced convincing evidence that people with HIV infection run a higher risk of lung cancer than people without HIV infection. This finding held true regardless of whether an HIV-positive person smoked at the time of the study, had stopped smoking, or never smoked.

At the same time, the study confirmed the huge impact smoking has on lung cancer risk: People who used to smoke had a 3 times higher risk of lung cancer than people who never smoked. And people who smoked during the study period had a 6 times higher risk of lung cancer than people who never smoked. So the lung cancer risk was lower in former smokers than current smokers. Smoking causes or contributes to several other deadly diseases, including other cancers and heart disease. If you smoke, you should talk to your healthcare provider about finding ways to stop. See the box "How to quit smoking."

The study also found that people who have already had a lung disease have a higher risk of lung cancer. Men had a higher risk of lung cancer in this mostly male study group, but that does not mean women don't have to worry about lung cancer. In the United States more people die of lung cancer every year than die of breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer combined.2

Besides smokers, people with a high risk of lung cancer include (1) people who have already had lung cancer, (2) people whose immediate family members have had lung cancer, (3) people exposed to high levels of air pollution, and (4) people exposed to asbestos (Figure 2), radon gas, arsenic, or radiation therapy to the lungs.2

Exposure to Asbestos

Figure 2. Exposure to asbestos, shown here magnified 1500 times, can cause lung cancer. But cigarette smoking (inset) is by far the main cause of lung cancer. (From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Image Library [PHIL]; asbestos photo, John Wheeler, PhD, DABT; cigarette photo, Debora Cartagena.)

The veterans study found that most people in whom lung cancer developed during the study had advanced lung cancer. That finding probably means that veterans' healthcare providers did not find lung cancer more often in people with HIV than without HIV because they were looking harder in people with HIV.

The researchers who conducted this study warn that, "as HIV-infected patients are aging on effective combination antiretroviral, lung cancer may become an increasingly common and often fatal diagnosis." Everyone can take steps to lower their risk of lung cancer, as explained above and in the online information linked below at references 2, 3, and 4.

How to Quit Smoking: Advice From the National Cancer Institute4
  • Ask your healthcare provider about medicine or nicotine replacement therapy, such as a patch, gum, lozenge, nasal spray, or inhaler. Your provider can suggest a number of treatments that help people quit.
  • Ask your provider to help you find local programs or trained professionals who help people stop using tobacco.
  • Call staff at the National Cancer Institute's Smoking Quitline (1-877-44U-QUIT) or instant message them through LiveHelp. They can tell you about:
    • Ways to quit smoking
    • Groups that help smokers who want to quit
    • National Cancer Institute publications about quitting smoking
    • How to take part in a study of methods to help smokers quit
  • Go online to, a Federal Government Web site. It offers a guide to quitting smoking and a list of other resources.


  1. Sigel K, Wisnivesky J, Gordon K, et al. HIV as an independent risk factor for incident lung cancer. AIDS. 2012;26:1017-1025.
  2. PubMed Health. Lung cancer. August 24, 2011.
  3. National Cancer Institute. Lung cancer.
  4. National Cancer Institute. What you need to know about lung cancer.
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This article was provided by The Center for AIDS Information & Advocacy. It is a part of the publication HIV Treatment ALERTS!. Visit CFA's website to find out more about their activities and publications.

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