Does being HIV positive increase lung cancer risk?

Lung Cancer Awareness Month: Although there are several causes of lung cancer, HIV can also increase its risk of it. Read to find out how!
causes of lung cancer
November is lung cancer awareness month. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Sachin Published: 24 Nov 2022, 10:30 am IST
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Cancer is one of the most common medical conditions that people face today. An increase in reported lung cancer cases can be attributed to lifestyle changes, increased pollution, cigarette smoking, intricate gene interactions, alcohol consumption, and efficient diagnostics. The National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research (NICPR) report reveals 13.9 lakh new cancer cases are detected each year and 8.5 lakh cancer-related fatalities occur.

Among all types of cancer, lung cancer is still the top cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Lung cancer alone accounts for most of the cancer burden in India. It starts in the lungs and can spread to the lymph nodes, brain, liver, or adrenal glands. It happens for various reasons like genetics and air pollution, but smoking is the biggest cause of lung cancer. Most lung cancer cases are believed to be caused by smoking. Another cause that can increase the risk of lung cancer is HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus).

Link between HIV and lung cancer:

HIV is a virus that targets immune cells, making a person more susceptible to other infections and disorders. HIV reduces a person’s ability to fight infections by weakening the immune system. If it is not treated, it can turn into AIDS, which can be life-threatening. The risk of lung cancer has been estimated to be 2-7 times higher in HIV-infected patients than in the general population. It is one of the biggest causes of death among HIV patients. The main causes of lung cancer in HIV patients are age and weak immune systems.

causes of lung cancer
HIV targets the immune system. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Due to new, improved treatments and a few lifestyle changes, people with HIV can live a longer time. People get physically weaker as they age, making them more vulnerable to chronic diseases such as cancer. Their immune systems also weaken. Cancer and other age-related diseases have pathogenesis that is impacted by biological systems that govern aging. Two out of every three cases of lung cancer are detected in adults over the age of 65, with most people being older than 45. HIV patients with already weakened immune systems deteriorate with age, and they are at a risk of developing lung cancer.

As HIV is a serious condition, a frequent diagnosis of lung cancer is important. There are a few types of biopsies that can be done under expert supervision to detect lung cancer, like Fine-Needle Aspiration (FNA), Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS), Bronchoscopy, Pleuroscopy biopsy, and Open biopsy.

How can HIV patients protect themselves from the weakening of their immune systems?

Follow these few tips:

1. Stop smoking: According to the study, a 35-year-old smoker with HIV has a median life expectancy of 62.6 years, compared to 78.4 years for a non-smoker with HIV—a loss of nearly 16 years. It is best to stop smoking.

2. Healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet full of vegetables and fruits can always be helpful to make the immune system stronger.

causes of lung cancer
Protect your lungs. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

3. Stay active: Regular exercise reduces the chance of inflammation in the body, which helps build the immune system. So, HIV patients should regularly exercise and stay fit and active.


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By making a few changes and getting treated at the right time, HIV patients can avoid the risk of developing the fourth most common type of cancer in the world, lung cancer.

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About the Author

Dr Sachin, Consultant – Interventional Pulmonology, Critical care, and Sleep medicine specialist, Manipal Hospital Bengaluru. ...Read More

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