If you live with HIV, always keep cancer in your sights

If you live with HIV, always keep cancer in your sights

For reasons that are still not entirely clear, people with HIV have higher rates of cancer than those without the virus. Several studies have found that those living with HIV, even with the infection controlled thanks to antiretroviral treatment, are more likely to develop cancers of all kinds.

Some cancers in particular occur when people have reached a stage of AIDS, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma (a cancer of the tissue under the skin and mucous membranes) or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a cancer that affects lymphocytes in the blood), but these do not have a routine test that can detect them early, according to the American Cancer Society.

Time is worth gold

How many times have you heard that phrase that this or that cancer “is curable if detected early”? Many times, perhaps, but it is not always clear what “on time” means. To understand this, you have to remember that the vast majority of cancers do not cause symptoms until they are very advanced. In other words, a small tumor in any part of the body almost never causes pain or discomfort, it does not cause inflammation or other signs that may alert us to its presence.

When the cancer already interferes or affects the function of neighboring organs where it arose, or when the cancer cells travel to distant organs such as the brain, it is said that it has reached an advanced stage and the chances of recovery are very low.

Check the list

One of the routine tests that can detect cancer in its early stages (or simply cancer risk) is the Pap smear. For women without HIV, this test is usually done every year, but for those living with the virus, it is recommended to do it more frequently in order to avoid cervical cancer.

This test can also be done on the mucosa of the anus, in order to check for possible anal cancer. Both this and cervical cancer are directly related to the human papillomavirus (HPV), so it is important to monitor both the cervix and the anus for this microorganism.

Other types of cancer that can be detected with specific tests are breast and colorectal. For the former, there is mammography, which according to current guidelines in each country can be done from 40 or 45 years of age, and which allows finding very small tumors that would not be felt with a physical examination.

For colon and rectal (or colorectal) cancer, which depends on early detection for a good prognosis for recovery, tests such as colonoscopy, which is the insertion of a very small video camera through the rectum, may be done. , which allows to observe from within in search of lesions or alterations in the structure of the tissue. Laboratory tests are also done, such as looking for occult blood in a small stool sample.

And not only doctors are in charge of detecting cancer, but also the dentist can examine you for lesions that may indicate oral or laryngeal (throat) cancer. If you have doubts about the subject, you can talk to him at your next appointment.

Avoid risk factors

Cancer is a complex and debilitating disease, but you can reduce your risk of developing it by following a few simple but important steps:

• The first thing is to stick to your antiretroviral treatment in order to keep your body in the best possible condition.

• Don’t smoke or reduce your tobacco consumption as much as possible.

• Do not use injected drugs or look for substitution therapies to stop them.

• Do not consume alcohol or consume it moderately.

• Use a condom to prevent new infections, such as HPV.

• If your immune system is weakened by HIV, ask your medical team to check you for signs of AIDS-related cancers, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Remember that you can be an active part of your treatment and your health care.

If you have already received an HIV diagnosis but have not started your treatment or want to resume it, at AHF Latin America and the Caribbean we can help you. Come to our offices in your country or write to us by Whatsapp.