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People living with HIV can be at higher risk of a wide range of cancers related to other infections heightened by their weakened immune systems.

Recent research suggests that immune deficiency is the probable explanation for the increased cancer risk; suggesting a broader than previously appreciated role for the immune system in the prevention of cancers related to infections.

For men who have sex with men, cellular changes in the genitals and anus, including those caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) - the virus that causes warts, sometimes leads to anal and other types of cancer. This is more common in HIV-positive men and especially those with a low CD4 count.

For women, abnormalities in cervical cells, including those caused by HPV, and cervical cancer can occur regardless of HIV status. They are more common in women with HIV, and can be more invasive.

In addition, people with HIV tend to smoke and drink more alcohol than others, which also increases the risk of several cancers including lung and liver cancer.

What you can do to live well:

  • Adhere to HIV treatment for your best immune function to prevent many HIV-associated cancers.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Smoking can weaken your overall immune system, making it more likely to get some opportunistic infections.
  • Smokers who are HIV positive are much more likely to develop many of the conditions linked to smoking than those who are HIV negative.
  • HIV-positive smokers are at increased risk of different kinds of cancers.
  • Know your hepatitis status:
    • If tests indicate you have been previously exposed to hepatitis B or hepatitis C, consider reducing the amount of alcohol you drink.
    • If the test shows you have hepatitis, talk with your doctor about treatment.
  • Talk to your doctor about vaccination for HPV.
  • Women also need to arrange for Pap smear tests every year.
  • Men who have sex with other men should also talk with their doctor about regular screening for anal cancer.