Risk and incidence of head and neck cancers in veterans living with HIV and matched HIV-negative veterans

Cancer. 2022 Sep 15;128(18):3310-3318. doi: 10.1002/cncr.34387. Epub 2022 Jul 22.


Background: Persons living with HIV/AIDS have a higher incidence of virus-related and tobacco/alcohol-related cancers. This study is the first to estimate the effect of HIV versus HIV-negative veterans on the risk of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma incidence in a large retrospective cohort study.

Methods: The authors constructed a retrospective cohort study using patient data from 1999 to 2016 from the National Veterans Administration Corporate Data Warehouse and the VA Central Cancer Registry. This cohort study included 45,052 veterans living with HIV/AIDS and 162,486 HIV-negative patients matched by age, sex, and index visit (i.e., HIV diagnosis date or clinic visit date). The age-standardized incidence rates and estimated adjusted hazard ratios were calculated with a Cox proportional hazards regression for oropharyngeal and nonoropharyngeal head and neck cancer squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). The authors also abstracted human papillomavirus (HPV) status from oropharyngeal HNSCC diagnosed after 2010.

Results: Veterans living with HIV/AIDS (VLWH) have 1.71 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.36, 2.14) times the risk of oropharyngeal cancer and 2.06 (95% CI, 1.76, 2.42) times the hazard of nonoropharyngeal cancer compared with HIV-negative veterans. VLWH with oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) were more likely to be HPV-positive (N = 30 [81.1%]) than the HIV-negative veterans with OPSCC (N = 50 [67.6%]), although this difference was not significant (p = .135). For nonoropharyngeal cancer, the increased risk of oral cavity cancer among VLWH drove the increased risk.

Conclusions: The study results suggest that HIV may play a role in virally mediated and nonvirally mediated HNSCC. As the HIV prevalence rises in the United States due to better survival and the incidence of HPV-positive oropharyngeal HNSCC increases, the interaction between HPV and HIV becomes increasingly relevant.

Keywords: Veterans Health Administration; head and neck cancer; incidence; non-AIDS-defining cancers; people living with HIV/AIDS.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell*
  • Cohort Studies
  • HIV Infections*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms*
  • Papillomaviridae
  • Papillomavirus Infections*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck
  • United States
  • Veterans*