HIV patients prone to several types of cancer

HIV infection reduces body’sability to fight viral infection leading to cancer

Kathmandu, December 1

Urmila (name changed), aged 44, had water discharge from her vagina last year. A patient of HIV, her menstruation had also stopped then. She thought it was because she was nearing menopause.

Upon advice from health practitioners and staffers at Maiti Nepal, she went for her medical tests and was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She is currently on cancer treatment. Not just Urmila, 10 more women taking anti-retroviral drugs at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Teku, are suffering from cancer. Two of the HIV patients suffering from cancer are currently living at Maiti Nepal’s shelter home.

People who are living with HIV are under risks of cancers such as kaposi sarcoma, a cancer that causes patches of abnormal tissue to grow under the skin, in the lining of mouth, nose, throat, in lymph nodes and other organs. Lymphoma, a cancer that starts in cells that are part of the body’s immune system is also seen in HIV patients. These cells are in the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, and other parts of the body. People suffering from HIV are also prone to cervical cancer.

“Infection with HIV weakens the immune system. It reduces the body’s ability to fight viral infections that may lead to cancer,” said Dr Anup Bastola at STIDH.

Human papillomavirus is sexually transmitted infection. Cervical cancer is caused by sexually acquired infection with certain types of HPV. “Human papillomavirus infection proliferates more in HIV affected people,” said Dr Kavita Karmacharya, at Nepali Army Institute of Health Sciences.

“There is also prevalence of lung cancers in people who smoke. Alcohol increases risk of liver cancer. Risk of both types of cancers are higher in HIV affected people,” said Dr Bastola.

People infected with HIV have compromised immune systems. Immuno-suppression and inflammation play role in the development of cancers in HIV affected patients.

Delay in cancer treatment and improper treatment of the disease will result in death of the patients. “We have been regularly conducting pap smear tests in women at our shelter. It helps us to diagnose the disease early. But, the cost for cancer treatment is expensive,” said Bineeta Shrestha, programme officer at Maiti Nepal’s Shelter.

World AIDS day is marked on December 1 to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. According to National Centre for AIDS and STD Control, estimated numbers of people living with HIV in Nepal is 31,020. Most of those suffering from HIV/AIDS are people who inject drugs, sex workers and their clients, men who have sex with men and transgender people, male labour migrants and their wives and prison inmates.