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Can You get Cancer from AIDS?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 July 2018
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The AIDS virus can make people more predisposed to a form of cancer called Kaposi’s Sarcoma. Unlike most cancers that tend to localize in one part of the body, Kaposi's Sarcoma tends to appear in and on several parts of the body at the same time. The primary cause is not the AIDS virus, but is exposure to Human Herpes Virus 8 (HHV8).

Human Herpes Virus 8 is far more contagious than HIV, with spread possible through salvia, through breastfeeding or by exposure to infected blood products. Sexual contact and receiving a donation of an infected organ may also expose one to HHV8. Pregnant women can also pass the illness to unborn children. The terms HHV8 and Kaposi's Sarcoma are often used interchangeably, since development of HHV8 means manifesting symptoms of Kaposi's Sarcoma.

Kaposi's Sarcoma is most common in men, and most common among those who have HIV, with approximately 20% of HIV patients infected with HHV8. Incidence has decreased slightly with better treatments for HIV. The condition manifests in skin lesions, probably the most identifiable association with HIV. These can be relatively small, and may look like a bruise. They tend to be flat, and they do not excrete fluids or cause itchiness. Lesions can progress in size and become raised. Several lesions may form together making the size appear much larger. Kaposi's Sarcoma lesions can occur on the face, or on any other part of the body.

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If you suspect exposure to HHV8, it is most important to bring small lesions to the attention of a doctor so early treatment can ward off other symptoms of Kaposi's Sarcoma. Usually, a small skin sample is taken from a lesion to confirm diagnosis.

If Kaposi's Sarcoma is diagnosed, a physician will probably also want to examine your lungs, with a bronchoscopy, a small tube that takes pictures of the bronchial tract. Also, one can expect to have analysis done of their gastrointestinal tract. Kaposi's Sarcoma can commonly appear in both the lungs and the gut, as either lesions or small tumors.

Kaposi's Sarcoma on the face may never progress to lesions in the gut or lungs. People may choose not to remove facial lesions and have no further incidence of the disease. However, lesions on the legs and feet can inhibit movement and be painful, and most ask to have these removed.

Primary treatment is chemotherapy to rid the body of cancer when Kaposi's Sarcoma has spread to the gut or lungs. There are side effects to chemotherapy, which makes people with threatened immune systems, as in those with HIV particularly at risk. However, failure to treat progressive Kaposi’s Sarcoma will ultimately result in tumor growths in the lungs which cause death. Most patients who are otherwise healthy, though HIV infected, feel risk of chemotherapy is far outweighed by benefits.

If Kaposi's Sarcoma is aggressive, radiation therapy may also be employed to shrink tumors or very large lesions. Though both chemotherapy and radiation have risks, chances of treating and curing Kaposi's Sarcoma are good.

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