HIV in Canada: A primer for service providers


Infections and Cancers Associated with HIV

Key Points

  • Some infections and cancers are more common in people with HIV.
  • Co-infections can make it more difficult to manage and treat HIV.
  • Life-threatening co-infections are seen much less frequently than in the early days of the HIV epidemic.

There are a number of infections and cancers that can develop in people with HIV. Some of these can occur when HIV infection has progressed, while some become more likely as people with HIV on effective treatment age.

Co-infection means a person is living with more than one infection at a time. They can occur in people with weakened or normal immune systems. Some co-infections can make it more difficult to manage and treat HIV. HIV can also complicate the management and treatment of co-infections. Some of the more common co-infections in people with HIV are hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes, and fungal infections.

Some infections (also known as opportunistic infections) can be life threatening. These only occur when the immune system is weak, making someone vulnerable to infection. They are preventable if people with HIV are diagnosed early and receive proper care and treatment. Thanks to effective HIV treatments, these infections are seen much less frequently than in the early days of the HIV epidemic. Examples include a lung infection called Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), an eye infection caused by cytomegalovirus (CMV), a brain infection called toxoplasmosis, and a generalized infection called Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC). If someone has a very low CD4+ cell count, they can take drugs to prevent these infections. This is called prophylaxis.

People with HIV are more vulnerable to certain types of cancers. Some cancers occur only when the immune system is weakened, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, while other cancers seem to be more common in people with HIV even if their immune system is relatively healthy. These include lymphomas, lung cancer, skin cancer, anal cancer, cervical and vaginal cancer in women, and prostate cancer in men. Scientists have found that people with HIV are generally more likely to be diagnosed with an advanced stage of such cancers (more and bigger tumours) compared to HIV-negative people. However, these cancers can often be successfully treated if they occur in people with HIV who maintain healthy immune systems with HIV treatment.

It is important that people with HIV have regular check-ups with their doctor. CD4+ counts monitor how HIV is affecting the immune system and viral load tests monitor if HIV treatment is working effectively. Regular screening for STIs as well as other co-infections is recommended. Cancer screening is also important, such as Pap smears to screen for both cervical and anal cancer.


HIV-Related Infections and Other Health Conditions

HIV-related infections and cancers – Managing your health: a guide for people living with HIV

Hepatitis BCATIE/SIECCAN fact sheet

Genital herpesCATIE/SIECCAN fact sheet

HPV, cervical dysplasia and cervical cancerCATIE fact sheet

HPV, anal dysplasia and anal cancerCATIE fact sheet

Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS)CATIE fact sheet

LymphomaCATIE fact sheet

TuberculosisCATIE fact sheet

Cytomegalovirus disease (CMV)CATIE fact sheet

Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC)CATIE fact sheet

Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP)CATIE fact sheet

ToxoplasmosisCATIE fact sheet

Large study finds advanced stage cancer more common in HIV-positive peopleCATIE News


CATIE. HIV-related infections and cancers. In: Managing your health: a guide for people living with HIV. 2009. Available from