Cancer-associated viruses, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis C, are especially dangerous for people living with HIV. HPV causes more than 90 percent of cervical and anal cancers diagnosed each year, while hepatitis C causes nearly half of all liver cancer cases. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people infected with HIV are at least 25 times more likely to be diagnosed with anal cancer than uninfected people, five times more likely to be diagnosed with liver cancer, and among women, five times more likely to be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer. Although there is a lot we don’t yet understand about the connection between HIV and cancer, it is likely that co-infections and weakened immune systems are important risk factors for HIV-positive people developing cancer.
Co-infection is a medical term meaning a person has multiple infections at the same time. In 2016, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated a quarter of all people with HIV are co-infected with hepatitis C. People who are co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C can experience life-threatening complications from treating and managing their HIV infections. This can significantly increase their risk of dying from non-AIDS-related causes, such as liver cancer. Although there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, curative treatments are available.
Every year about 14 million Americans are newly infected with HPV. Furthermore, nearly all men and women will be infected with HPV during their lifetime. Because HPV is linked to multiple cancers, we recommend women ages 21-34 receive a Pap test every 3 years and women ages 35-65 receive a Pap test combined with HPV test every 5 years, or Pap test every 3 years. However, women with HIV are at an increased risk and should talk to their health care professionals about annual testing. It’s important for people living with HIV to know their HPV and hepatitis C statuses to prevent the progression to cancer.
In honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and National Cancer Prevention Month, take action to prevent the spread of HIV and Stop Cancer Before It Starts!® If you are living with HIV, talk to your doctor about HPV and hepatitis screenings. Use your voice to advocate for Medicaid coverage of lifesaving hepatitis C treatment and support mandatory HPV vaccination in public schools.