The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology recently published a Danish study that found people with HIV have an increased risk of developing certain types of skin cancer. There are three types of cancer that can affect the skin:
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC): the most common form of skin cancer, mainly caused by excess exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet light sources and most common in fair-skinned people. These cancers start in the lower level of the skin.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): similar to BCC but starting in the upper layer of the skin.
Malignant melanoma (MM): a less common but more aggressive type of skin cancer, caused by sun exposure and ultraviolet light.
Researchers examined those with HIV and found that they are twice as likely to develop BCC, five times likely to develop SCC. To researched compared 4,280 participants to the general Danish Population (21,399 controls). “This unique study design using high-quality, population-based nationwide data enabled us to address potential confounding by skin type and family-related sun behavior, and to provide data on skin cancer risk in HIV-infected patients from more northern parts of the world,” said researchers in a report by NAM AIDSmap.
“The increased risk of BCC was restricted to patients reporting MSM [men who have sex with men] as the route of HIV. There seemed to be an association between immunosuppression and SCC-risk for [HIV-positive] patients. The risk of MM was not increased when compared with the background population, but [the] low number of MM cases makes definitive conclusion difficult.”
Because of advancements in antiretroviral therapy people with HIV are living longer healthier lives and AIDS-related cancers (Kaposi Sarcoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma) have decreased since the 1990s. However, the rates of other malignancies no typically associated with HIV-related issues are increasing.
The research is unclear if HIV can be attributed to increased risks of skin cancer. Skin cancer is mostly caused by exposure to the sun or ultraviolet light, but a suppressed immune my increase the risk. “One could argue that the increased risk of BCC might be driven primarily by sun exposure or sunbed use in youth/adulthood not accounted for by the sibling model since previous data suggest that [HIV-positive] MSM might have increased recreational UV-exposure,” suggest the authors.
Most skin cancers are treated by surgery with a good prognosis after treatment. The key is to get regular check-ups and if cancer is present have it treated in an early state.