Association of cancer with AIDS-related immunosuppression in adults

JAMA. 2001 Apr 4;285(13):1736-45. doi: 10.1001/jama.285.13.1736.


Context: Large-scale studies are needed to determine if cancers other than Kaposi sarcoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and cervical cancer occur in excess in persons with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Objectives: To examine the general cancer pattern among adults with HIV/AIDS and to distinguish immunosuppression-associated cancers from other cancers that may occur in excess among persons with HIV/AIDS.

Design, setting, and subjects: Analysis of linked population-based AIDS and cancer registry data from 11 geographically diverse areas in the United States, including 302 834 adults aged 15 to 69 years with HIV/AIDS. The period of study varied by registry between 1978 and 1996.

Main outcome measure: Relative risks (RRs) of cancers, calculated by dividing the number of observed cancer cases by the number expected based on contemporaneous population-based incidence rates. We defined cancers potentially influenced by immunosuppression by 3 criteria: (1) elevated overall RR in the period from 60 months before to 27 months after AIDS; (2) elevated RR in the 4- to 27-month post-AIDS period; and (3) increasing trend in RR from before to after AIDS onset.

Results: Expected excesses were observed for the AIDS-defining cancers, but non-AIDS-defining cancers also occurred in statistically significant excess (n = 4422; overall RR, 2.7; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.7-2.8). Of individual cancers, only Hodgkin disease (n = 612; RR, 11.5; 95% CI, 10.6-12.5), particularly of the mixed cellularity (n = 217; RR, 18.3; 95% CI, 15.9-20.9) and lymphocytic depletion (n = 36; RR, 35.3; 95% CI, 24.7-48.8) subtypes; lung cancer (n = 808; RR, 4.5; 95% CI, 4.2-4.8); penile cancer (n = 14; RR, 3.9; 95% CI, 2.1-6.5); soft tissue malignancies (n = 78; RR, 3.3; 95% CI, 2.6-4.1); lip cancer (n = 20; RR, 3.1; 95% CI, 1.9-4.8); and testicular seminoma (n = 115; RR, 2.0; 95% CI, 1.7-2.4) met all 3 criteria for potential association with immunosuppression.

Conclusion: Although occurring in overall excess, most non-AIDS-defining cancers do not appear to be influenced by the advancing immunosuppression associated with HIV disease progression. Some cancers that met our criteria for potential association with immunosuppression may have occurred in excess in persons with HIV/AIDS because of heavy smoking (lung cancer), frequent exposure to human papillomavirus (penile cancer), or inaccurately recorded cases of Kaposi sarcoma (soft tissue malignancies) in these persons. However, Hodgkin disease, notably of the mixed cellularity and lymphocytic depletion subtypes, and possibly lip cancer and testicular seminoma may be genuinely influenced by immunosuppression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / complications*
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host*
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Registries
  • Risk
  • United States / epidemiology