KENDALL, Fla. – More than a million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, and rates of infection in South Florida continue to rank among the highest in the nation.
Because people with HIV have a much higher risk of developing cancer, one local hospital recently opened a special clinic to deal with this often devastating dual diagnosis.
It was during a routine physical at the age of 52 a woman, who asked only to be known as Samantha, was stunned when blood work revealed she had HIV.
“Complete and absolutely because I felt nothing,” she said.
Within 8 months of treatment, the virus was undetectable in her system, then came another hurdle: Learning she had lymphoma and needed to begin treatment immediately.
“It was a tough road it was very difficult having to accept this also,” Samantha said.
She became a patient at the Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Hospital, which recently opened a special clinic dedicated to treating patients with both the virus and cancer.
“Because of the presence of the HIV virus and the interaction with other viruses, these patients are at higher risk to have many cancers, not only oral cancer, lung cancer, but hematologic malignancies, such as lymphoma for example, and the cases are much more aggressive,” said Dr. Marco Ruiz, chief of oncology and HIV stem cell transplantation, who was instrumental in helping the institute become a member of the Aids Malignancy Consortium and create the HIV-Cancer Clinic.
“Now we have many, many different opportunities, not only for the clinical operations but for research operations so hopefully we’re going to be leading some of the key research for HIV-oncology patients for the future,” Ruiz said.
Samantha finished her cancer treatment in July 2020 and credits the personalized care she received with helping her achieve full remission.
“They got me through it they literally did,” she said.
The HIV-Cancer Clinic currently has 25 patients enrolled in treatment and can accommodate up to 400.
They even have patients who’ve undergone bone marrow transplants with hopes for a cure from both their cancer and HIV.