AIDS-Associated Cancers

What are AIDS-associated cancers?

AIDS-associated cancers are abnormal growths of cells you may get when you have AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Types of tumors that you may get include:

  • A type of skin tumor called Kaposi’s sarcoma
  • Cancer of the cervix if you are a woman (the cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina)
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is a tumor that starts in the lymph nodes
  • A tumor in the brain called primary lymphoma

The sooner cancer is found and treated, the better your chances for recovery. However, even advanced cancer can usually be treated. Treatment may slow and ease symptoms for a time or stop the growth of the cancer. Ask your healthcare provider what you can expect with the type of cancer that you have.

What is the cause?

AIDS attacks your body’s immune system. The immune system is your body’s defense against infection. AIDS weakens your immune system and makes it hard for your body to fight cancer and other diseases.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms depend on the type of cancer.

  • Kaposi’s sarcoma may cause bumps or red or purple areas on your skin. Usually the bumps are not tender.
  • Cervical cancer usually has no symptoms. It sometimes causes abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially right after sex.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma may cause swelling of your lymph nodes. They may stay swollen for weeks or months and are usually not tender. Lymph nodes make blood cells that fight infection. Lymph nodes are most easily felt in your armpits, groin, and neck.
  • Primary lymphoma of the brain may cause headaches, seizures, trouble thinking or speaking clearly, or trouble moving one or both sides of your body

Lymphomas also often cause tiredness, fever, and unexplained weight loss.

How are they diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tests may include:

  • A biopsy, which is the removal of a small sample of tissue for testing
  • CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the body
  • A Pap test, which is a screening test done during a pelvic exam to check for abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix or vagina

How are they treated?

Possible treatments are:

  • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells
  • Freezing or removing precancerous cells or surgery to remove the uterus for cervical cancer.
  • Stem cell or bone marrow transplant, which uses your own cells or cells from a donor. First, you are given high-dose chemotherapy to destroy your old blood-forming cells. The new transplanted cells grow in to healthy blood cells.
  • Biological therapy, which uses medicine to help your immune system fight the cancer

Your treatment will also include:

  • Preventing infections
  • Controlling pain or other symptoms you may have
  • Controlling the side effects from treatments
  • Helping you manage your life with AIDS and cancer

Often, more than 1 type of treatment is used. After treatment, you will need to have regular follow-up visits with your healthcare provider.

Ask your healthcare provider about clinical trials that might be available to you. Clinical trials are research studies to find effective cancer treatments. It’s always your choice whether you take part in one or not.

How can I take care of myself?

If you have been diagnosed with AIDS-associated cancer:

  • Talk about your cancer and treatment options with your healthcare provider. Make sure you understand your choices.
  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

Other things that may help include:

  • Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise as recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Try to reduce stress and take time for activities that you enjoy. It may help to talk with a counselor about your illness.
  • Talk with your family and your healthcare providers about your concerns. Ask your healthcare provider any questions you have about the disease, treatments, side effects of the treatments, sexuality, support groups, and anything else that concerns you.
  • If you smoke, try to quit.
  • Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol. It may interfere with medicines you are taking. Alcohol can also make it harder for white blood cells to fight infections.
  • Tell your provider if your treatment causes discomfort. Usually there are ways to help you be more comfortable.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-12
Last reviewed: 2015-01-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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