According to an article recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, patients with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) over the age of 50 years may have a higher rate of colon cancer than healthy individuals and should be screened for this disease.

Patients infected with HIV often live beyond age 50 with the use of newer treatments. Since many cancers become more prevalent with increasing age, researchers are beginning to evaluate the effectiveness of screening measures for specific cancers in the HIV-positive population.

Researchers from the New York University School of Medicine recently conducted a clinical study including 2,382 patients who underwent a flexible sigmoidoscopy for the detection of colon cancer. A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure in which a lighted tube is inserted into the rectum so physicians may view the lower part of the colon. Of these patients, 165 were HIV-positive.

  • Colon cancer or pre-cancerous colon masses were detected in 25.2% of patients who were HIV-positive versus only 12.9% of patients who were not infected with HIV.
  • Advanced colon cancers were found in 7.3% of patients who were infected with HIV compared with only 3.8% of patients who were not infected with HIV.
  • A subsequent colonoscopy also identified an increase in colon cancer among HIV-infected individuals.

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The researchers concluded that HIV-infected individuals appear to have a higher risk of colon cancers than individuals who are not infected with HIV. HIV-positive individuals over the age of 50 should be offered screening for colon cancer.

Reference: Bini E, Park J, Francois F, et al. Use of Flexible Sigmoidoscopy to Screen for Colorectal Cancer in HIV-Infected Patients 50 Years of Age and Older. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2006;166:1626-1631.

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