Women with HIV are five times more likely to get cervical cancer than women without HIV, but researchers haven't really understood why.
"Use condoms to prevent HIV and HPV transmission."
Now, a new understanding of the link between the two diseases reveals that aspirin might be able to decrease production of the chemical suspected of contributing to the cancer.
The research was led by Dr. Daniel Fitzgerald, as associate professor at medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and was conducted across New York, Qatar and Haiti.
One effect of HIV infection is chronic inflammation throughout the body, but researchers have now found that it also stimulates the production of the chemical PGE2 in cervical tissue.
PGE2 levels increase with inflammation, and the chemical been linked to contributing to several kinds of cancers, including cervical cancer.
This new research suggests that medications which prevent a specific molecule, called COX-2, from producing PGE2 might reduce the likelihood that an HIV-positive woman will get cervical cancer.
Aspirin is already known to inhibit the COX-2 molecule. Therefore, it might be helpful in breaking the HIV-cervical cancer link.
"The findings in this study provide new insights into the link between viral infection and inflammation, two known drivers of cancer development," said Dr. Andrew Dannenberg, one of the study's authors and the director of the Weill Cornell Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.
"Future studies will be needed to determine whether aspirin-like agents can reduce the risk of cervical cancer in this high-risk population," he said.
The study involved three groups of women. The 13 who had HIV and HPV (human papillomavirus), which can cause cervical cancer, had the highest levels of COX-2 and PGE-M, a different form of PGE2.
The 18 women who had HIV but not HPV had high levels of both substances but not as high as the women with both conditions.
The 17 women who did not have HIV or HPV had the lowest levels of COX-2 and PGE-M.
The researchers said more studies are needed to determine whether aspirin can actually work to break the connection between HIV and cervical cancer and which women would benefit most from taking daily aspirin or similar medications to prevent PGE2 production.
Women in the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa are possible groups that would greatly benefit because those countries have disproportionately high death rates from cervical cancer.
The report was published in the January issue of the journal Cancer Prevention Research. The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the Fogarty International Center and the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute.
One author has an investment in Tragara Pharmaceuticals Inc., which is developing a drug to inhibit COX-2, and Fitzgerald oversees a scholarship program sponsored by Pfizer Inc.