A new Kaiser Permanente study shows that HIV infection adds dramatically to the risk of getting cancer (in addition to AIDS). From the San Francisco Chronicle story:
People with HIV infections have a higher risk of developing certain cancers than those who aren’t infected, and the sicker they are, the greater their risk, according to a large study of Kaiser Permanente members. The study, results of which were published Tuesday, provides further evidence of the possible benefits of treating HIV-positive patients with antiretroviral therapy soon after they’re diagnosed – while they’re still symptom-free and before the virus has a chance to dramatically weaken their immune systems, HIV/AIDS experts said.
I am all for quicker treatment. But I want to take a different angle to this story. Before I get into that, let’s look at a few more details:
The Kaiser study is among the first, and largest, to compare cancer rates between HIV-positive individuals and people who aren’t infected but are similar demographically. The study looked at 20,000 HIV-positive Kaiser members in California and compared them with 215,000 members who were not infected. HIV-positive patients had higher rates of Kaposi’s sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, melanoma, and anal and liver cancer. Neither smoking nor drinking appeared to be a factor in any of those cancers other than liver.
Their risk was increased as much as 200 times in the case of Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare cancer that is highly associated with HIV and AIDS. Other cancers ranged from a 40 percent increased risk for liver cancer and a 55-fold increase for anal cancer. For reasons that doctors don’t yet understand, the risk of developing prostate cancer is slightly reduced with HIV infection. HIV-positive patients who smoke or drink too much alcohol have a slightly increased risk of developing lung or liver cancer compared with uninfected people who are smokers and drinkers.
Now, let’s approach this from a different direction than usual with regard to stories describing the health consequences of sexual behavior. (Yes, I know HIV can also be spread with non sexually.) If our job as a society is to prevent risk and stop disease–both for humane and health care cost control reasons–why shouldn’t promiscuity be treated with the same cultural disdain and public health preventative campaigns as smoking? (Remember the old ad, warning that when you sleep with someone, you are also sleeping with everyone they have ever slept with? You don’t see that anymore.)
Clearly, promiscuity falls into the same dengerous personal behavior category as smoking. So, why do we not see concerted and unequivocal anti-promiscuity campaigns, like we do anti-smoking campaigns? Why do we not tax products, such as pornography, that promote promiscuity? Why not have warning labels on articles in Playboy and Cosmopolitan warning that promiscuous behavior can cause genital warts or gonorrhea? I mean, if Herman Cain got in trouble because an Internet campaign ad showed a man smoking, why not exhibit the same opprobrium when popular culture extols the fun of sleeping with someone they just met?
I would like to see a study computing how much promiscuity adds to the cost of health care in the USA. It has to be huge, what with unwanted pregnancies, abortion, STDs, herpes, HIV, depression, uterine cancer, etc., beyond etc. I have my doubts whether grants would be available for such a computation because some will think it smacks of moralism. but that isn’t the point. Besides, the information learned could demonstrate a public health need to reverse the growing licentiousness of our cultural flow, and there’s money in them thar hills!
But I think it is a fact worth learning and disseminating. Promiscuous behavior can be as dangerous as smoking and at double time.