Washington — When science turned AIDS several years ago from a fatal disease to a chronic illness that often can be managed with drugs, patients and doctors breathed a sigh of relief.
Now they have a new worry.
As people live longer with the virus, they are becoming far more likely than the rest of the population to develop cancers that were not previously associated with AIDS, research has found. “We’re seeing high rates of head and neck cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer and anal cancer,” said John Deeken, director of head and neck oncology at Georgetown University Medical Center.
Researchers have detected the trend for years in separate studies around the world, but their findings were not widely publicized or known. On Thursday, the American Society of Clinical Oncology released an abstract by Deeken outlining a clinical trial by the AIDS Malignancy Consortium to study the effects and safety of a chemotherapy drug to treat non-AIDS-related cancers in HIV-positive patients.
Deeken said he hopes the presentation of his research at ASCO’s June 4 national conference will call attention to a growing cancer threat and the need to address it. Thousands of oncologists from around the world attend the annual conference to discuss new approaches to cancer treatment.
“Even when we control for smoking, we see a higher rate than the general population,” Deeken said. “We don’t know why this is happening. We need to figure that out.”
The development of non-AIDS-related cancers in HIV-infected people could change the way people who are at a greater risk of contracting the virus have come to view the disease.
AIDS activists say that advances in HIV drug therapy have led some young gay men to think of the disease as a chronic condition that can be easily managed if they became infected.