HIV/AIDS-Related Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the changes and medical problems that can be a sign of cancer related to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Use the menu to see other pages.

What are the symptoms and signs of an HIV/AIDS-related cancer?

People with a cancer related to HIV/AIDS may experience one or more of the following symptoms or signs. Symptoms are changes that you can feel in your body. Signs are changes in something measured, like taking your blood pressure or doing a lab test. Together, symptoms and signs can help describe a medical problem. Sometimes, people with an HIV/AIDS-related cancer do not have any of the symptoms and signs described below. Or, the cause of a symptom or sign may be a medical condition that is not cancer.

Kaposi sarcoma

  • Slightly elevated purple, pink, brown, black, blue, or red blotches or bumps anywhere on the skin or in the mouth and/or throat

  • Lymphedema, which is swelling caused by a blockage of the lymphatic system

  • Unexplained cough or chest pain

  • Unexplained stomach or intestinal pain

  • Diarrhea and/or blockage of the digestive tract, which can be caused by Kaposi sarcoma lesions that have developed in the gastrointestinal tract

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) depend on where the cancer began and the organ that is involved. Here are some 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

  • Fatigue

Cervical cancer

Any of the following could be symptoms or signs of cervical cancer:

  • Blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods

  • Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual

  • Bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination

  • Increased vaginal discharge

  • Pain during sexual intercourse

  • Bleeding after menopause

  • Unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will try to understand what is causing your symptom(s). They may do an exam and order tests to understand the cause of the problem, which is called a diagnosis.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. Managing symptoms may also be called palliative and supportive care,” which is not the same as hospice care given at the end of life. This type of care focuses on managing symptoms and supporting people who face serious illnesses, such as cancer. You can receive palliative and supportive care at any time during cancer treatment. Learn more in this guide’s section on Coping With Treatment.

Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.