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New Cancer Treatment Guidelines Developed for People Living with HIV

March 05, 2018

People living with HIV are far more likely to be diagnosed with certain cancers than the general population, and yet patients in this vulnerable group receive treatment at significantly lower rates than HIV-negative people. 

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) released new guidelines last week to help address this predicament. The NCCN Guidelines for Cancer in People Living with HIV will support oncology providers in delivering safe, effective treatment for HIV-positive people who are diagnosed with cancer. 

“The disparity in cancer care is significant,” said Gita Suneja, associate professor of radiation oncology and global health and co-chair of the panel that crafted the guidelines. “For most cancers, people living with HIV are two to three times less likely to receive cancer treatment compared to uninfected people.” Suneja advocated for the development of the guidelines after her research uncovered these gaps in care.

Researchers are still exploring the reasons for these large differences in cancer treatment, but a study by Suneja and others revealed that the lack of clinical management guidelines is one contributing factor. Oncology providers may be leery of the potential for drug interactions and overlapping toxicities between cancer therapeutics and antiretroviral therapy. They may also worry about the risk of infectious complications. The guidelines emphasize the importance of coordinating care with an oncologist and an HIV specialist.

“The ultimate goal is to improve cancer survival among people living with HIV,” said Suneja. “With modern antiretroviral therapy, people with HIV are living longer and therefore getting more cancers related to both HIV infection and aging.” She notes the urgency of improving cancer treatment for people with HIV, given that cancer is quickly becoming the leading cause of death among this population.

Suneja will present the new guidelines during the 23rd NCCN Annual Conference later this month. 

Learn more about the guidelines.

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With modern antiretroviral therapy, people with HIV are living longer and therefore getting more cancers related to both HIV infection and aging.

Gita Suneja, associate professor of radiation oncology and global health

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