HIV-infected patients may not be getting the cancer treatment they need, a new study has revealed.

Therapies for head and neck, lung, breast, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, colorectal, prostate, cervix, anal and blood cancers were analyzed, and researchers found that patients with HIV are treated differently.

For instance, one-third of HIV patients with lung cancer did not get cancer treatment compared with 14 percent of patients with lung cancer but without HIV.

An even larger disparity was noted in patients with cancer in the upper GI tract: 44 percent with HIV did not receive treatment for the cancer versus 18 percent without HIV who did not get treatment.

Patients with HIV and concurrent cancer do not receive any form of chemotherapy or radiation therapy for the malignancy.

Gita Suneja, study lead author and a radiation oncologist at the University of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute, expressed concern that, while HIV patients get aggressive treatments for their immunodeficiency virus, many still die secondary to an untreated malignancy or tumor.

Analysis Of The National Cancer Database

Researchers used 2003 to 2011 data from the National Cancer Database, which stores about 70 percent of all new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States. The data was analyzed to identify what therapies were given to HIV patients who were less than 65 years old and who had any of the most common cancers.

The study included data from 2.2 million HIV-negative and 10,265 HIV-positive patients. It found that as much as one-third of the sample with the immunodeficiency virus also had stage 4 cancer that had spread upon diagnosis, compared with only 19 percent of HIV-negative patients.

It was also noted that avoidable lifestyle-associated cancers were higher in patients with HIV. The patients were, likewise, more vulnerable to acquiring cancers linked to normal aging.

Lack Of Insurance Not An Issue

Is the non-treatment due to lack of insurance? The study authors said that, while many of the HIV patients do not have sufficient insurance, it is not the root cause of the treatment failure.

The study found that even when HIV patients have private insurance, they are still more often untreated compared with those who do not have HIV.

Differences in cancer therapy could be affected by several factors. Primarily, no cancer treatment guideline for HIV-infected patients exists. Having one could standardize the treatment process.

"Does the HIV infection mean they shouldn't get standard cancer treatment?" Suneja asked.

The study was published online in Cancer on May 17.

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