HIV/AIDS-Related Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2021

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.

People with an HIV/AIDS-related cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can identify and describe, such as fatigue, nausea, or pain. A sign is something that other people can identify and measure, such as a fever, rash, or an elevated pulse. Together, signs and symptoms can help describe a medical problem. Sometimes, people with an HIV/AIDS-related cancer do not have any of the signs and symptoms 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, or red blotches or bumps anywhere on the skin or in the mouth and/or throat

  • Lymphedema, which is swelling caused by blockage of the lymphatic system, often in an arm or leg

  • Unexplained cough or chest pain

  • Unexplained stomach or intestinal pain

  • 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

  • Fatigue

Examples of symptoms related to the tumor's location:

  • A tumor in the abdomen can cause a stretched belly or pain in the back or abdomen.

  • A tumor in the center of the chest can press on the windpipe and cause coughing, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or other respiratory problems.

  • Bloody spots or light bleeding between or following menstrual periods.

Cervical cancer

  • 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

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may be called palliative care or supportive care. It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout 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.