Long-term antiretroviral (ARV) treatment of HIV does not protect against anal cancer, according to a French study. This is a concern because rates of anal cancer are markedly high among people living with HIV, in particular men who have sex with men (MSM). Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and first reported by Reuters, the study examined the French Hospital Database on HIV and found 263 cases of invasive anal squamous cell carcinoma between 1992 and 2008 and compared those cases to 2,012 HIV-negative patients who had anal cancer. The researchers found that during the modern ARV era the risk of anal cancer among HIV-positive MSM was 100 times greater than that of the general male population. For HIV-positive heterosexual men, the risk was 50-times greater. HIV-positive women, meanwhile, had a rate 13 times greater than that of the general female population. People with HIV were in fact more likely to develop anal cancer in the ARV era. The study’s authors theorized this could be explained by the “premature aging hypothesis,” the idea that certain cancers develop at younger ages for HIV-positive people who, thanks to ARVs, are living longer. However, the scientists pointed to a silver lining: Having a low CD4 count nadir as well as an AIDS diagnosis were key risk factors; so if CD4 counts are kept high and HIV is successfully repressed, then anal cancer rates will likely fall.

To read the study abstract, click here

To read the Reuters report, click here