Facing the Threat of Cancer With AIDS

Esophageal and stomach cancer risk high for AIDS patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Here's the thing about having a chronic disease that weakens your immune system: It puts you at higher risk for developing cancer, in addition to the disease you already deal with.

That's the reality for people with HIV/AIDS.

As patients with HIV and AIDS survive and live longer with the disease, doctors find themselves diagnosing more cancers that weren't thought to be associated with the virus itself.

Now, a new study adds stomach and esophageal cancers, as well as non-Hodgkins lymphomas, to the growing list.

"Cancer questions - see your doctor."

The study was led by Dr. E. Christina Persson, of the National Cancer Institute, and published in Gastroenterology, the official journal of the American Gastroenterological Association.

Most stomach and esophageal, or throat cancers are diagnosed in older Americans, 65 and over. The stomach and esophagus are linked and often considered together.

There have been studies that showed that HIV-infected people were at higher risk for these cancers, but the authors explained that no one has looked at the specific types of cancers that affect this group.

They used data from a large survey called the HIV/AIDS Cancer Match Study. The study matched up information taken from local HIV/AIDS and cancer registeries from 1980 until 2007.

The researchers compared 596,955 people with AIDS, with the general population to find out if they had an increased risk of stomach and esophageal cancers.

They found that people with AIDS were 69 percent more likely to have esophageal cancer, and 44 percent more likely to have stomach cancer than the general population.

AIDS patients had a higher risk of non-Hodgkins lymphomas in those areas as well.

Non-Hodgkins lymphomas are tumors that come from white blood cells. It's been established that HIV-infected patients are more likely to have non-Hodgkins and Hodgkins lymphomas than those who are HIV-free.

The study also found that people with AIDS are 53 percent more likely to have cancer of the lower stomach. That cancer, in particular, is often caused by a bacterial infection called Helicobacter pylori, which is also blamed for esophageal cancer.

Another explanation could be the behavior of the patients themselves. Patients with AIDS are more likely to use tobacco and alcohol, risk factors for these types of cancer.

But similar to the general population, stomach and esophageal cancers were more often diagnosed in older members of the study group.

The study authors conclude that it would be unrealistic to screen every HIV and AIDS patient for stomach and esophageal cancers. But they suggest that cutting back on smoking and drinking could cut down on a patient's risk for the disease.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 24, 2012
Last Updated:
September 26, 2012