September 10, 2003
Researchers at the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow and the Scottish Cancer Registry in Edinburgh examined data from 2,574 people diagnosed with HIV in Scotland between 1981 and 1996, when antiretroviral drugs were first introduced. Although HIV patients in general were 11 times more likely to develop cancer, the risk varied between different groups. Hemophiliacs and heterosexuals were 5 times more likely to develop cancer than the population as a whole; homosexual and bisexual men were 21 times more at risk.
Scientists were particularly interested in increases in non-AIDS-defining cancers. Lung cancer risks quadrupled among HIV patients, while the risk of skin cancer tripled and the risk of liver cancer increased by 22 times.
"We expected a number of cancers already linked to HIV would be more common in Scottish patients, but the rises in lung, liver and skin cancer were more surprising," said lead author Dr. Gwen Allardice of the University of Strathclyde. "It could be that HIV patients are smoking more or have greater exposure to other viruses such as hepatitis B and C, or it might be because a healthy immune system plays a stronger role than we thought in keeping these cancers at bay."
Dr. Richard Sullivan, head of clinical programs for Cancer Research UK, which owns the British Journal of cancer, said, "HIV takes effect by dismantling the immune system. It not only strips people of their ability to fight infections, some of which can cause cancer, but may also prevent the body from being able to recognize and destroy cancer cells. With this new study, we now have a valuable insight into the kind of cancers which are linked to HIV. It will help doctors to monitor the health of today's HIV patients, who are at least fortunate enough to have the benefit of antiretroviral drugs," he added.