A new study published by SFU researchers suggests that women who are living with HIV may be more likely to develop cancer.
Published in HIV Medicine, the study shows that compared to the general population, women who have contracted HIV are more at risk to develop certain cancers. This is despite the introduction of modern highly-active antiretroviral therapy that reduces the risk of many AIDS-related cancers.
Kate Salters, a sessional instructor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, works at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Salters is a PhD student and her supervisor, Bob Hogg, is the lead author of the paper.
According to her, the heightened risk of cancer among women living with HIV could be due to the increased risk of other viral infections.
Said Salters, “This is one of the first studies to focus exclusively on females living with HIV and cancer. We know that sex and gender directly and indirectly influence health and disease.
“We were particularly interested in women-specific cancer risk, especially considering the incidence of female-specific cancers such as cervical cancer.”
The study stresses the importance for these women to have ongoing support — such as HIV care and cancer screening processes — that is tailored to women in particular.
Currently, HIV positive women with cancer have close to a 50 per cent mortality rate; that number drops to less than 20 per cent for those without cancer.
“The reality of living with HIV is changing and people are living longer, healthier lives than ever before with sustained treatment options,” Salters explained.
She continued, “How we treat, engage, and work with individuals living with HIV, especially women in this context, needs to reflect that reality. Looking at the complete picture of women’s health is essential to this — and that often extends beyond just the biology of HIV.”
Going forward, Salters suggested they would be looking at effect of the immune system being suppressed long-term (a symptom of HIV/AIDS) on cancer risk among women living with HIV, with the aim of determining what clinical interventions can help with that.