People with HIV at greater risk of lung cancer, study shows

Results demonstrate the importance of lung cancer screening in younger people with HIV.

A researcher carrying out a study on HIV and lung cancer.
Image: Unsplash

A new research study conducted by the US National Cancer Institute has identified an increased risk of lung cancer for people living with HIV.

The longitudinal study took place from 2001 to 2016. Throughout the course of their research, scientists followed 4 million people who were HIV Positive, with 3,426 participants developing lung cancer.

The results determined that all age groups of people with HIV were more likely to develop lung cancer compared to the general population, and the likelihood of those living with HIV developing lung cancer continues to increase steadily with age. People living with HIV over the age of 50 are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer compared to other cancers. The number of people over 65 who are diagnosed with lung cancer is expected to double by 2030. 

Most notably, people in their 40s are twice as likely to develop lung cancer compared to the rest of the population.

To help diagnose lung cancer as early as possible, the study suggests offering routine lung cancer screening for younger people who are HIV Positive. Early screening before symptoms are present is the best way to diagnose and treat lung cancer, but there is currently no national screening programme for lung cancer available in most European countries, including Ireland.

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According to the HSE, approximately 1,800 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year in Ireland, but less than 1% of new cases are identified in patients younger than 40 years-old.

Most patients are symptomatic before being diagnosed, and lung cancer symptoms include difficulty breathing, a long-term cough, repeated chest infections, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing. Early detection helps identify cases when they are most treatable and contributes to the highest survival rate.

Thankfully, as HIV research advancements and healthcare treatments continue to improve, more people living with HIV are being cured. In addition, earlier this year, the first successful organ transplant between a donor and recipient with HIV was conducted.

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