HIV and AIDS-Related Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

People with an HIV/AIDS-related cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with an HIV/AIDS-related cancer do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer. If you are concerned about a symptom or sign on this list, please talk with your doctor.

Kaposi sarcoma

  • Slightly elevated purple, pink, brown, or red lesions in the mouth and/or throat or anywhere on the skin, most commonly on the upper body and face.
  • Lymphedema (swelling caused by blockage of the lymphatic system, often in an arm or leg)
  • Unexplained cough or chest pain
  • Unexplained stomach or intestinal pain
  • Unexplained bleeding from the mouth or rectum
  • Diarrhea and/or blockage of the digestive tract, caused by Kaposi sarcoma lesions that have developed in the gastrointestinal system

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The symptoms of NHL depend on where the cancer began and the organ that is involved.

General symptoms:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the abdomen, groin, neck, or underarms
  • Enlarged spleen or liver
  • Fever that cannot be explained by an infection or other illness
  • Weight loss with no known cause
  • Sweating and chills

Examples of symptoms related to tumor location:

  • A tumor in the abdomen can cause a distended (stretched) belly or pain.
  • A tumor in the center of the chest can press on the windpipe and cause difficulty breathing or other respiratory problems.
  • A tumor in the brain can cause headaches, seizures, or changes in vision and memory

Cervical cancer

  • Bloody spots or light bleeding between or following menstrual periods
  • Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Increased vaginal discharge

Your doctor will ask you questions about the symptoms you are experiencing to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis. This may include how long you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s) and how often.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms and side effects remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section helps explain what tests and scans may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Diagnosis, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.