Doctor earns grant to study connections between HIV, lung cancer

By Staff


Dan Merrick, M.D., (University of Colorado Cancer Center lung/head and neck cancer program/School of Medicine pathology/Denver Veterans Administration) has received a $150,000 Lung Cancer SPORE supplemental grant to study the relationship between HIV infection and lung cancer.

People with HIV/AIDS are living longer thanks to antiretroviral therapies. As survival increases, doctors see increasing numbers of non-AIDS-related malignancies, including head and neck cancer, anal cancer, liver cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and lung cancer among this population. Recent studies have shown:

  • HIV/AIDS patients are three to four times more likely to get lung cancer than HIV-negative people (double that if they smoke)
  • They are prone to getting lung cancer 10 to 15 years earlier than HIV-negative people
  • They seem to progress faster and do worse stage by stage than HIV-negative people
  • Post-diagnosis survival for HIV/AIDS patients is half that of HIV-negative people—5 months versus 10 months

Merrick's grant is a collaboration with physicians in the infectious disease or HIV clinics at University of Colorado Hospital, Denver VA and the Medical University of South Carolina.

The project's first aim is to identify HIV positive patients with a history of lung cancer to help build a national repository of lung cancer tissue with associated patient data. The second aim is to understand the frequency and severity of premalignant lung lesions by recruiting about two dozen HIV-positive patients who are smokers to bronchoscopy.

Merrick, whose research focuses on both premalignant and malignant bronchial lesions, says the information will be helpful in developing adequate screening programs and identifying good chemoprevention strategies to decrease the amount of life lost to lung cancer in the HIV-positive population.