What Are AIDS-Related Cancers?

People with HIV/AIDS are at high risk for developing certain cancers, such as Kaposi sarcoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and cervical cancer. For people with HIV, these three cancers are often called "AIDS-defining conditions," meaning that if a person with HIV has one of these cancers, it can signify the development of AIDS. The connection between HIV/AIDS and certain cancers is not completely understood, but the link likely depends on a weakened immune system.

Types of AIDS-related cancers

The most common types of AIDS-related cancers include:

Kaposi sarcoma

A type of skin cancer that has traditionally occurred in older men of Jewish or Mediterranean descent, young men in Africa or people who have received organ transplantation. Today, Kaposi sarcoma is found most often in homosexual men with HIV/AIDS and is related to an infection with the human herpes virus 8 (HHV-8).

Kaposi sarcoma in people with HIV is often called epidemic Kaposi sarcoma. HIV/AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma causes lesions to arise in multiple sites in the body, including the skin, lymph nodes and organs such as the liver, spleen, lungs and digestive tract.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

HIV/AIDS-related Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is the second most common cancer associated with HIV/AIDS, following Kaposi sarcoma. There are many different subtypes of NHL, including:
  • Primary central nervous system lymphoma (affecting the brain and spinal fluid)
  • Primary effusion lymphoma (causing fluid to accumulate around the lungs or in the abdomen)
  • Intermediate and high-grade lymphoma

More than 80 percent of lymphomas in people with HIV/AIDS are high-grade B-cell lymphoma, while 10 percent to 15 percent of lymphomas among people with cancer who do not have HIV/AIDS are of this type. It is estimated that between 4 percent and 10 percent of people with HIV/AIDS develop NHL.

Other types of AIDS-related cancers

Other, less common types of cancer that may develop in people with HIV/AIDS are Hodgkin lymphoma, angiosarcoma (a type of cancer that begins in the lining of the blood vessels), anal cancer, liver cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, lung cancer, testicular cancer, colorectal cancer, and multiple types of skin cancer including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.