People often use terms such as HIV and AIDS together, but they have different meanings. In simple terms, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a type of virus that damages the immune system. At the same time, AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is a severe, life-threatening disease caused by HIV. Let us talk more about the virus and the condition in detail.
Over a while, HIV destroys white blood cells that cause numerous types of diseases and cancer. We all know that HIV is the most common sexually transmitted infection or STI, but it can also spread by contact with infected blood or from mother to the baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding. The virus is not contagious and does not spread through the air, water, or casual contact.
A person with HIV whose white blood cells count falls below 200 per cubic millimeter is more likely to be diagnosed with AIDS. It is the most advanced stage of HIV. If a person has HIV, it doesn’t mean that the condition will develop. It is also true that there is no HIV cure, but medications and therapies have been proven to slow down the progression of the disease dramatically. Many developed nations have taken the help of best medical practices to reduce AIDS deaths.
Symptoms of HIV
Now you must be wondering how to detect HIV at an early stage? What are the significant HIV symptoms in women? Any many more similar questions. Many people generally observe an HIV rash as their first symptom, while swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, vomiting, weight loss, shingles, headache, body pain, nausea are some of the common symptoms of the virus. Women with HIV may observe symptoms such as recurrent vaginal yeast infections, changes in the menstrual cycle, genital warts. While talking about HIV symptoms in men, infected people may experience gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.
It is pretty shocking to know that people having HIV are more likely to be diagnosed with certain types of cancer than people with the virus. These certain types of cancer are generally known as AIDS-defining cancers or malignancies. In the following few sections, we will study what are some HIV-associated cancers and related diseases? Is there something like HIV brain cancer? Can ARVS cause cancer? And several more things.
Studies reveal that HIV has progressed to AIDS if people with the virus develop one of the following types of cancer. Some common AIDS-defining cancers are listed below:
- Kaposi sarcoma
- Cervical cancer
- NHL or Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
People with the virus or AIDS are also likely to be diagnosed with several other types of cancer, also known as non-AIDS-defining cancers or NADCs. The types of cancer listed below are more likely in people diagnosed with HIV. Furthermore, they are not a sign that the virus has developed into AIDS. Some of the NADCs are:
- Lung Cancer
- Anal Cancer
- Head and Neck Cancer
- Testicular Cancer
- Several types of Cancer
- Hodgkin lymphoma
You must be thinking about how AIDS and cancer at the same time are even possible? There is uncertainty regarding the connection between HIV/AIDS and a few types of malignancy, but it is somewhere related to a weakened immune system. Cancer generally begins when healthy cells grow abnormally and form a mass known as a tumor. A tumor can be either cancerous or non-cancerous (benign). A non-cancerous tumor usually grows but doesn’t spread. The most common types of cancer associated with HIV/AIDS are mentioned below in detail.
According to a study, Kaposi sarcoma is regarded as the most common malignancy in HIV. If we compare with the non-infected population, people with HIV are about 500 times more likely to be diagnosed with this type of cancer, while 12 times more likely to get the NHL or Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and infected women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer.
While coming back to Kaposi sarcoma, it is a type of soft-tissue sarcoma or malignant tumor that typically occurs in older men of Mediterranean or Jewish lineage, young men of Africa, and people who have had organ transplantation are also affected by this condition. These days, the condition is also quite common in homosexual men with HIV/AIDS. This type of cancer causes lesions all around the body such as skin, lymph nodes, organs such as the liver, lungs, digestive tract, and many more.
This type of cancer develops in the lower and narrow part of the uterus known as the cervix, and the uterus holds the growing fetus (unborn baby) during the months of pregnancy. The lower part of the vagina is connected to the vagina by the cervix, and with the vagina, it forms the birth canal. This type of cancer is also known as the cancer of the cervix.
People having HIV/AIDS are more likely to develop CIN or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. These cancers generally develop in cells on the surface of the cervix. Many decades back, cervical cancer was one of the leading causes of death among the women of the United States. Since screening tests became widely popular, the rate of fatalities has fallen down drastically.
It is a cancer of the lymphatic system; generally, NHL occurs when tumors develop from the lymphocyte (a type of white blood cell). Furthermore, the malignancy is more common than Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The lymphatic system’s job is generally to fight infection, and it carries lymph, a colorless fluid containing white blood cells that help fight germs in the body. There are several subtypes of NHL as well, these are:
- Aggressive B-cell Lymphomas
- Primary CNS or Central Nervous System Lymphoma (affects the brain)
- Primary effusion Lymphoma (causes fluid to build up around abdomen, lungs, or the heart)
Diagnosis Of AIDS-Related Cancers
HIV patients generally visit healthcare providers regularly, and during those visits, doctors may ask about their health and several physical examinations. This helps to trace certain infections and diseases, including cancer as well.
Doctors may ask for specific tests if the patient has some AIDS-related cancer symptoms. Also, tests generally depend on the signs and the type of cancer that the person might have. The tests are as follow:
- Biopsy: In this test, a small sample is taken from the lump or lesion and sent to a lab to detect cancer cells.
- Imaging tests: X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs are some imaging tests; these tests help create images of the body. These tests may help diagnose different types of cancers.
- Blood tests: These tests are also very significant in diagnosing a few types of cancers. Blood tests also give an idea of the overall health of the human body.
- Other tests: A doctor may perform several other tests depending on the symptoms of a patient. A Pap test can be performed to check the presence of cervical cancer cells. A spinal tap or lumbar puncture may be performed to look for lymphoma cells around the brain and spinal cord.
Furthermore, staging is generally a part of a cancer diagnosis. It helps to find how big the condition is and whether it has spread to other parts or not. Staging plays a vital role in determining the treatment option. Staging is nothing but a classification from stage 1 to 4. Stage 1 means the disease is only limited to a specific area, while in stage 4, cancer is most severe as it has spread to other parts of the body. One should consult a doctor if they have some queries regarding the staging.
AIDS-Related Cancer Treatments
Like diagnosis, treatments depend on the type of cancer a person has and up to what extent the disease has spread to other body parts. A patient may need more than one treatment mentioned below:
- Surgery: Doctors generally remove the tumor during surgeries.
- Immunotherapy: In this treatment, doctors use certain drugs to improve the immune system and kill abnormal cells affecting healthy cells.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment is also known as chemo. The treatment is performed to stop and kill cancerous cells from growing.
- Targeted Therapy: The therapy generally focuses on the cancer cells and tries to limit the damage to healthy cells.
- Radiation: The treatment involves high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation that limits or kill cancer cells.
Treating HIV is a significant part of therapy; doctors generally perform the antiretroviral treatment to control the infection. Now a question arises, can ARVs cause cancer? The answer is no, but the infected person continues to be at higher risk for developing the disease even after these therapies.
To know more about AIDS-defining cancers, visit the University Cancer Centers website. Here at UCC, we offer the best treatment at affordable prices.