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Wednesday, February 3, 1999 Published at 14:18 GMT

HIV+ women in cancer risk

Women with HIV run a higher risk of contracting cervical cancer

Women with HIV are twice as likely to have a virus which is a major cause of cervical cancer, according to research.

HIV women whose immune systems severely damaged are ten times as likely to be infected with the sexually transmitted virus.

US scientists studied over 1,000 HIV positive women and compared them with 500 women without the virus but who were at high risk of contracting human papillovirus (HPV), a major cause of cervical cancer.

HPV leads to precancerous changes in the womb.

It cannot be eliminated, but early diagnosis can lead to treatment which can ensure the body's immune system keeps the virus in check.

The US study - the largest of its kind - found that the damage that HIV does to women's immune system means that they are on average twice as likely to have HPV.

Scientists believe the high level of HPV in HIV positive women is not due to new infection, but to reactivation or persistence of previously acquired HPV.

Combination therapy

The study was conducted before the impact of protease inhibitors - drugs which, used in combination, have dramatically reduced deaths from Aids - could be assessed.

But scientists believe this could increase their risk of going on to develop cancer because it means they will live longer.

"Cervical cancer may take many years to develop," said Joel Palefsky, leader of the study, which is published in the Journal of the National Institute of Cancer.

"With powerful new treatments that allow them to live a longer life with HIV, women who also have HPV infections unfortunately may face a greater likelihood than before of developing this cancer if they do not regularly undergo the currently recommended screening procedures such as Pap smears."

The study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, also found that women under 40, African-American women and women who smoke were more than 50% more likely to have HPV than older women, white women and non-smokers respectively.

[ image: The effect of anti-Aids drugs usually wears off because the virus mutates]
The effect of anti-Aids drugs usually wears off because the virus mutates
In another report in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, scientists say they have discovered a new protease inhibitor which could last longer than other drugs.

Although previous drugs have been successful in reducing HIV levels, they do not usually last for long because HIV mutates rapidly.

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute in California say that, after a year of their new drug, no resistant forms of the disease had developed in laboratory tests.

The treatment may also be effective in combatting the feline version of Aids.

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