Breast Cancer and HIV: a South African perspective and a critical review of the literature

  • P Reddy
  • S Ebrahim
  • B Singh
  • S Ramklass
  • I Buccimazza


Background: The diagnosis of breast cancer and concurrent HIV in South Africa is common. The limited current evidence on this subject suggests that the patients thus afflicted appear to be younger, have a more advanced stage of breast cancer, have a  higher treatment related complications and poorer outcomes. This paper  reviews the literature related to HIV and breast cancer, with a view to improving the standard and quality of care of HIV positive breast cancer patients.

Methods: Pubmed, EBSCOhost, Google scholar and Science Direct electronic  databases were searched from 2001 and 2015. using the terms (‘HIV’ OR ‘human immunodeficiency virus’ OR ‘AIDS’ OR ‘Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome’) and ‘breast cancer’ or ‘breast carcinoma’ to identify all publications related to HIV and breast cancer. Titles and abstracts were evaluated for eligibility and appropriate full text articles obtained. The data extraction variables included the type of study, year of publication, study setting, participants, sample size, outcome measures and main findings.

Results: Only five studies fulfilled the criteria, in respect of the aforementioned  maladies, with twenty or more participants in each study. Evidence suggested that breast cancers develop at a much younger age in the HIV positive patient compared to the HIV negative patients, with more aggressive appearing tumour biology.  Overall, it appears that HIV positive patients experienced a higher cancer-specific mortality than HIV negative patients, and this is independent of the stage of the cancer or the cancer  therapy received, further the relationship between the HIV syndrome and breast cancer is currently marginal and inconclusive, and hence requires further investigation.

Conclusion: The prescription and administration of chemotherapy is a challenge, with potential complications impacting on the morbidity and mortality in HIV positive patients. Currently there are no reliable predictors of those at risk to complications from chemotherapy; however, being on ART appears to provide an acceptable safety profile. HIV positive patients are best managed in the context of a multi-disciplinary team in order to achieve favourable outcomes in the treatment of cancer. Well-designed prospective trials to assess the response to multimodal therapy, and the long-term outcomes of HIV positive patients with breast cancer are needed.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2078-5151
print ISSN: 0038-2361