Developments in HIV-related medicine have significant implications for the practice of oncology. Although HIV is a relatively new discipline within medicine, the identification and therapeutic targeting of HIV has been rapid. Furthermore, political lobbying has sculpted scientific research and patient care. Rational drug design has reduced morbidity and mortality to such an extent that the development of predictive surrogate endpoints has been necessary to enable randomised assessments of new protocols to continue. These studies now include the routine detection of resistance to tailor specific therapies to the patient. The involvement of affected communities in dynamically modelled studies have shown the efficacy of new, preventive strategies and debates about such approaches have improved the standard of care. In this review, we discuss what oncologists can learn from the HIV epidemic.