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Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

HIV is a virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens the body’s immune system and may leave people vulnerable to certain types of cancer.

HIV infection and cancer

HIV does not appear to cause cancers directly. HIV infection weakens the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight infections and diseases. This can contribute to developing cancer. Also, people infected with HIV may have a higher risk of some cancers compared to the general population. This is partly because of the higher incidence of other risk factors, such as smoking, alcohol use and infection with other cancer-causing viruses like HHV8 and HPV.

HIV infection increases the risk of:

  • Kaposi sarcoma
  • anal cancer
  • certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • cervical cancer
  • cancer of the conjunctiva (a thin membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelids and the outer surface of the eye)
How is HIV spread?

HIV can spread from an infected person to someone else by:

  • having unprotected sex (oral, vaginal or anal)
  • sharing needles, syringes or other equipment for injecting drugs
  • an infected mother to a child during pregnancy, at birth or through breastfeeding
  • a sharp equipment injury or accidental needle stick while healthcare workers care for someone with HIV infection
  • getting donated blood or an organ transplant

Canadian Blood Services tests every blood donation for HIV. Only blood that does not contain this virus is used, so the risk of getting an HIV infection through a blood transfusion is very low. Organ donors are also tested for HIV.

HIV is not spread by casual contact, such as talking, shaking hands, hugging, coughing or sneezing.

How to test for HIV?

If you think you’re at risk for HIV infection or have been exposed to HIV, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested. A blood test is usually done to see if you have been exposed to the virus.

If you are pregnant and concerned about HIV, talk to your doctor about being tested. Early treatment with medication can prevent HIV from being spread from a mother to her baby before birth.

How to reduce your risk

Right now, there’s no vaccine that prevents HIV infection. To help reduce your risk of HIV infection, follow these tips.

Practise safer sex.

If you are sexually active, use a condom and other barriers safely to help protect against HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections.

Protect yourself from infected blood or body fluids.

Don’t share needles or other drug-use equipment. If you inject drugs, take part in a needle exchange program.

Don’t share personal care articles, such as razors, scissors, nail clippers or toothbrushes, with an infected person.

Wear latex gloves whenever you might come into contact with someone else’s blood or body fluids.

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