Saanichton, BC

Dr. Miguel A. Lipka

AIDS-Related Cancer

This is categorized under:

AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is a chronic, life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, known as HIV. By damaging or destroying the cells of your immune system, HIV interferes with your body's ability to effectively fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause disease. This makes you more susceptible to opportunistic infections your body would normally resist and to certain types of cancers, such as Kaposi's sarcoma and AIDS-related lymphoma.

AIDS-Related Lymphoma

AIDS-related lymphoma is a disease in which cancer or malignant cells are found in the lymph systems of patients who have AIDS.

The lymph system is made up of thin tubes that branch, like blood vessels, into all parts of the body. Lymph vessels carry lymph, a colorless, watery fluid that contains white blood cells called lymphocytes. Along the network of vessels are groups of small, bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes. Clusters of lymph nodes make and store infection-fighting cells. The spleen, an organ in the upper abdomen that makes lymphocytes and filters old blood cells from the blood; the thymus, a small organ beneath the breastbone; and the tonsils, an organ in the throat, are part of the lymph system.

Because there is lymph tissue in many parts of the body, the cancer can spread to almost any of the body's organs or tissues including the liver, bone marrow (spongy tissue inside the large bones of the body that makes blood cells), spleen or brain.

Lymphomas are divided into two general types, Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, which are classified by the way their cells look under a microscope. This determination is called the histology. Histology also is used to determine the subtype of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The types of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas are classified by how quickly they spread: low-grade, intermediate-grade, or high-grade. The intermediate or high-grade lymphomas grow and spread faster than the low-grade lymphomas.

Both major types of lymphoma -- Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, especially the more aggressive, intermediate, and high grade lymphomas -- may occur in adult and pediatric AIDS patients.

A separate type of lymphoma, called primary central nervous system lymphoma -- starts in the brain or spinal cord, rather than starting somewhere else in the body and spreading to the central nervous system. The immune deficiency usually is quite advanced before this develops.

A doctor should be seen if any of the following symptoms persist for longer than two weeks:

  • Painless swelling in the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm or groin
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss without dieting
  • Itchy skin

The prognosis and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage of the cancer
  • The number of CD4 lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) in the blood
  • Whether the patient has ever had AIDS-related infections
  • The patient's ability to carry out regular daily activities

Some treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy -- a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing
  • Radiation therapy -- a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing *High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant -- a method of giving high doses of chemotherapy and replacing blood-forming cells destroyed by the cancer treatment

Kaposi's Sarcoma

Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) is a disease in which cancer or malignant cells are found in the tissues under the skin or mucous membranes that line the mouth, nose and anus. If there are signs of KS, a doctor will examine the skin and lymph nodes carefully.

The chance of recovery depends on what type of Kaposi's sarcoma you have, your age and general health, and whether or not you have AIDS. Although KS often responds well to treatment, recurrent disease is common. This means that KS will likely recur after it has been treated. It may come back in the area where it first started or in another part of the body.

KS causes red or purple patches, called lesions, on the skin as well as on mucous membranes. It may spread to other organs in the body, such as the lungs, liver or intestinal tract.

Treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery -- to treat small, surface lesions
  • Biologic therapy -- a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy. Interferon alfa is a biologic agent used to treat Kaposi sarcoma.