HIV/AIDS Related Cancer Treatment

In people affected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that can develop into AIDS, there are certain types of cancers that are more prevalent than others. Cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer that causes blotchy tumors on the skin, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, are two of the cancers most commonly seen in people affected with HIV. Cervical, digestive, lung and mouth cancers also are cancers commonly seen in people affected with HIV/AIDS as compared to other cancers.1

Treatment options for HIV/AIDS-related cancers are largely dependent on the particular type of cancer, as well as how advanced the cancer is at diagnosis.

Treatments for HIV/AIDS related cancers could include one or more of the following:

Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART)
Since AIDS is an immune deficiency disease, people affected with both AIDS and cancer usually are treated with a combination of anti-HIV drugs, which usually include antiviral medications.
Surgery to remove the cancerous cells is often an option for cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma, cervix, digestive system, lung and mouth cancers. The particular type of surgery will depend on the location of the tumor.
Radiation Therapy
The use of high-energy rays to kill cancerous cells is a standard anticancer treatment option. Radiation can be given externally, which focuses on an area of the body where there is a large tumor, or it can be given systemically, which occurs when it is injected directly into the body. Radiation therapy can be used alone or in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy and/or targeted therapy.
Given intravenously and by pill, chemotherapy works to kill the rapidly dividing cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy is not selective to killing just the cancer cells, but also depletes other fast-growing cells in the body, which causes several debilitating side effects including hair loss and nausea.
Biological Therapy/Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that utilizes the body’s natural immune system to fight cancer. One of the first developed is called interferon alpha, which is not often used because it can cause severe flu-like symptoms such as fever, aches, and chills, which some people may not be able to tolerate. Additionally, research has shown that it may not be very effective in people affected with AIDS.
Targeted Therapies
These types of therapies are specifically designed to attack a particular gene found on the surface of cancer cells. Innovative research over the past decade has made it possible for these types of therapies to become available because science has yielded a better understanding of how certain genes stimulate the growth of certain cancers.
Stem Cell Transplantation
In certain cancers that recur after initial treatment, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a stem cell transplant may be considered in some patients. This form of treatment occurs when high doses of chemotherapy or radiation are given to destroy bone marrow cells (where white blood cells develop) and then are replaced with healthy stem cells, which form new white blood cells, previously removed from the patient or a donor.


  1. National Cancer Institute. AIDS-Related Cancer Home Page. Accessed on September 19, 2010.


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