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The Miami Cancer Institute targets improved care for HIV patients with cancer

People infected with HIV are 500 times more likely than those without the disease to get a type of soft tissue cancer called Kaposi sarcoma. They’re 12 times more likely to get non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and three times more likely to get cervical cancer, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Data also show that HIV-positive cancer patients are more likely to die from cancer than HIV-negative patients with the same cancers.

The Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida, has formed a multidisciplinary team to improve care for HIV-positive cancer patients. Dr. Marco Ruiz, a hematologist who leads HIV oncology and HIV stem cell transplantation at the institute, spoke to FLORIDA TREND about the new initiative.

Approach: “There’s a big need here in South Florida to develop and deliver a comprehensive package of cancer treatments for the HIV-infected population. HIV/oncology patients suffer from two very bad conditions, and they need a full team behind them — not only oncologists, but also HIV specialists, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, psychologists, case managers, social workers, navigators and so forth. We’re also planning to incorporate nutritional services, spiritual services and palliative care.”

Stigma: “It’s a heavy burden. In the minds of many, a diagnosis of HIV equals death. In fact, things have changed dramatically, and HIV is now more of a chronic illness. It’s also taboo in many cultures. I have patients who prefer to travel about 100 miles to a pharmacy to get their HIV medicines refilled because they don’t want anyone to recognize them.”

Recognition: “We recently were accepted into the AIDS Malignancy Consortium (AMC), which is a national group of 37 centers that represent excellence in HIV/oncology care. The AMC is running about 10 clinical trials, and as a member, we’re going to bring all those clinical trials here. We can offer clinical trials that perhaps other centers cannot. It also means there’s a national organization helping you with research endeavors. All of us benefit because information is circulated among members. A third aspect is that you can attract scientists, providers and others who truly want to do HIV/oncology research.”

Goal: “Our goal is to make sure we’re a resource to the community and to other providers. We project that in the next two to three years, we’ll have 200 to 300 patients. Around us, there are about 10,000 patients infected with HIV. Of those, about 1% will develop cancer — about 100 new patients a year.”