HIV Positive? Check for Skin Cancer

HIV positive patients may have increased risks for non melanoma skin cancers

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

(RxWiki News) If you have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), you may have a higher risk of certain types of skin cancer. With any type of skin cancer, early detection and treatment is the key.

A recent study looked at the rates of non-melanoma skin cancer in people who tested positive and negative for HIV. The rates of non-melanoma skin cancers were higher in HIV positive patients, especially skin cancers associated with a weakened immune system.

"Talk to a dermatologist about any skin abnormalities."

Michael J. Silverberg, PhD, MPH, epidemiologist from the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, CA, led an investigation into links between skin cancer and HIV infections.

For the study, researchers looked at the rates of non-melanoma skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma in 6,560 HIV-positive and 36,821 HIV-negative white adults in Northern California between 1996 and 2008.

HIV is a virus that attacks and weakens a person's immune system. People with HIV are called HIV positive and people without HIV are called HIV negative. 

Squamous cell carcinoma is not as dangerous as melanoma, but it can spread both externally and internally and must be treated by a doctor.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common and least dangerous form of skin cancer. Even though basal cell carcinoma grows slower than other skin cancers and does not typically spread to other areas of the body, it must still be treated by a doctor.

The rates of non-melanoma skin cancer were twice as high in HIV-positive individuals compared to HIV-negative individuals. Specifically, HIV-positive patients were 2.6 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinomas than HIV-negative participants and 2.1 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinomas.

Researchers determined the increased odds for HIV patients developing squamous cell carcinoma was related to deficiencies in the immune system. Weakened immune systems were not linked to HIV-positive patients developing basal cell carcinoma.

HIV-positive patients may benefit from monitoring for occurrences of non-melanoma skin cancers. Early detection and treatment of squamous and basal cell carcinomas is key to optimal outcomes.

This study was published in January in the Journal of the Nation Cancer Institute.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 22, 2013
Last Updated:
January 25, 2013