Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of AIDS-Related Cancers

When a person becomes infected with HIV, the immune system doesn't work as well. As a result, cancers may develop more quickly and become harder to treat, since the immune system usually helps fight cancerous cells before they turn into tumors. People who are taking anti-HIV drugs—medications that help boost the immune system—may be better able to benefit from anticancer treatments.


Diagnoses for AIDs-related cancer varies on the type. Diagnoses may include:

Kaposi sarcoma

To diagnose Kaposi sarcoma, a physician may do a physical examination and remove a sample of tissue to inspect under a microscope. You may also need a chest X-ray to see if the disease has affected your lungs. A physician may also need to inspect your lungs directly using a small scope to take pictures and tissue samples. Kaposi sarcoma can also affect the digestive system, so an endoscopy and/or colonoscopy may also be necessary to examine the upper and lower digestive tract.

AIDS-related lymphoma

Likewise, a number of tests may be needed to diagnose AIDS-related lymphoma. These include CT or MRI scans, which create images of the inside of your body. The physician may also perform a physical exam to see how well your brain and nervous system are working. The physician may do a lumbar puncture to check the fluid in your spinal cord for cancer, as well.

Other types of cancer

A physician may find early cervical cancer, or cells that could become cancerous, during a Pap test. A physician may do a physical exam and a digital rectal examination to check for anal cancer. Other ways to diagnose this disease include inspecting the area with a special scope or removing cells to examine under the microscope.

To diagnose lung cancer, a physician may obtain images of your lungs with an X-ray, CT or MRI scan. Blood tests may also be helpful. The physician may analyze mucus, fluid, or tissue from your lung.


Preventing infection from HIV will prevent AIDS-related malignancies. Important steps include:

  • Not sharing needles or syringes with other people
  • Avoiding unprotected sex
  • Not sharing toothbrushes or razors with other people
  • Not coming into contact with other people's blood
  • Getting tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases on a regular basis

Other steps can help prevent some other types of AIDS-related cancers, including:

  • Not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke to lower your risk for lung cancer
  • Limiting your sex partners, using condoms, and not smoking to lower the risk for cervical cancer 
  • Having regular checkups can allow your physician to find abnormal cells before they develop into cancer 
  • Being vaccinated against the HPV virus can also reduce the risk