Study Discovers HIV Increases Risks of Developing Cervical Cancer

A team of researchers from the Technical University of Munich have measured how an HIV infection affects cervical cancer development. HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus in full, is a virus that attacks an individual’s cells, making it harder for the body to fight infections, which makes one more vulnerable to other diseases and infections. The study was reported in “The Lancet Global Health” journal.

Statistics from WHO show that cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer type in women. Approximately 580,000 women were diagnosed with cervical carcinoma globally in 2018. It is estimated that nearly 311,000 of these women succumbed to the illness. The researchers’ findings show that women who have been infected with HIV are six times more likely to develop cervical cancer. Eastern and Southern Africa are particularly affected by HIV.

In contrast, cervical cancer that is caused by HPV, or the human papilloma virus, is among the most treatable and preventable cancer types, as long as it is caught at an early stage and treated effectively. At the same time, cervical cancer is the cancer detected most frequently in women living with HIV, as their immune systems have already been weakened by the virus.

The lead authors of the study, Dr. Luana Tanaka and Dr. Dominik Stelzle, carried out a meta-analysis and a systematic review of 24 studies conducted between 1981 and 2016. The study participants with HIV came from four continents — Asia, Africa, Europe and North America — and totaled 236,127 participants. The studies looked into 2,138 cases of cervical carcinoma.

The results from the studies were then combined with cervical carcinoma data from WHO’s Cancer Research Center, IARC and global HIV infection data from UNAIDS and then assessed. The study authors discovered that in 2018, 5.8% of new cervical cancer cases that were diagnosed globally were women living with a HIV infection.  This is equal to 33,000 cases annually, with the data showing that 85% of these cases were in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The team of researchers also used their findings to demonstrate that, when compared to women without the HIV infection, women living with HIV were six times more likely to develop cervical cancer.

Center for Global Health co-director Prof. Andrea S. Winkler explained that a link between HIV and cervical carcinoma was feasible, seeing as cervical carcinomas were generally caused by the HPV infection, which is transmitted sexually, as is HIV. She added that, based on the researchers’ findings, it was plausible to make an assumption that HIV represented a risk factor for a HPV infection.

The researchers noted that early-stage screenings for cervical carcinoma and HPV vaccinations were important, particularly in Southern Africa countries.

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