HIV Status Complicates Cancer

By Steve Blanchard - September 18, 2019

Nearly 40 years after the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, people are living longer, fuller lives with the disease thanks to improved treatment. But this is not the case for older cancer patients who are HIV-positive, particularly those with prostate and breast cancers.

Anna E. Coghill, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant member of the Cancer Epidemiology Department at Moffitt Cancer Center, was part of a team that took a closer look at whether cancer treatment had an impact on outcomes among HIV-positive cancer patients.

Dr. Anna Coghill, assistant member of the Cancer Epidemiology Department at Moffitt Cancer Center.

“Previous studies have shown that HIV-infected cancer patients are more likely to die from their cancer than HIV-uninfected cancer patients. However, those studies have not been able to take into account detailed information on the treatments patients may have received, including the exact type or timing of treatment,” Coghill said.

Today is HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 3.6 million people 50 and older live with HIV worldwide. It’s a statistic that is directly related to the advanced treatment options that were unimaginable a generation ago.

“As the HIV population continues to age, the association of HIV infection with poor breast and prostate cancer outcomes will become more important, especially because prostate cancer is projected to become the most common malignancy in the HIV population by 2020,” said Coghill. “It is why we are stressing the need for more research on clinical strategies to improve outcomes for HIV-infected cancer patients.”

Coghill and her team’s findings were published in JAMA Oncology.

Results showed that cancer-specific mortality was higher in HIV-infected cancer patients compared with their HIV-uninfected counterparts in breast and prostate cancers. Researchers found that HIV-infected women were nearly twice as likely to experience disease relapse or death after successfully completing initial cancer therapy.

Coghill says it’s important to remember that HIV infections are not a thing of the past. In fact, Florida has the highest number of new HIV infections each year of any state, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and the rate of new infections has not stabilized in many of the counties around Tampa Bay.

“The overlap of HIV and cancer will continue to be an issue,” Coghill said. “Patients and clinicians should take extra care to ensure that the HIV status of their patients is known and recorded as part of their cancer care.”

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