Background: In South Africa’s public hospitals, 20% of new breast cancer (BC) diagnoses are in women living with HIV (WLWH).
These women experience 49% higher mortality than BC patients without HIV.Mental health disorders are prevalent in both WLWH and women with BC.Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and acute stress are linked to increased circulating serum inflammatory markers, which may provide a pathophysiologic explanation for poorer outcomes.
We aimed to explore whether South African BC patients living with HIV report more mental health symptoms than women with HIV alone, BC alone, or neither and to determine if comorbid HIV and BC is associated with greater systemic inflammation.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study of black South African women ≥18 years old. We enrolled four arms: newly diagnosed BC patients with HIV, newly diagnosed BC patients without HIV, WLWH without BC, and women with benign breast diagnoses.
Participants were recruited from the breast clinic or HIV clinic at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital. Consenting women completed the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item Scale (GAD-7), and the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS).
Blood samples were tested for serum concentrations of inflammatory markers (c-reactive protein (CRP) and S100A8/A9), pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α), and anti-inflammatory cytokines (IL-4, IL-5, and IL-10) via ELISA assays performed at the University of Miami.
Results: The first three arms enrolled 25 women each and the benign arm enrolled 22 women. Participant scores on the CES-D, GAD-7, and PSS were higher than expected in all groups and seemed to be worse in participants with HIV alone.
Scores consistent with clinical depression, moderate to severe anxiety, and moderate to severe stress were reported by 68-88%, 28-76%, and 72-94% of participants, respectively.
We found trends towards higher concentrations of CRP, TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-8 in participants with co-morbid BC and HIV versus benign breast disease but no pattern of increased inflammatory marker concentrations in participants with dual diagnoses versus either diagnosis alone.
Conclusions: Our pilot study did not find evidence of increased mental health symptom burden or systemic inflammation in South African women with comorbid breast cancer and HIV, versus either diagnosis alone.
Increased mental health symptoms in women with HIV alone may reflect reduced access to supportive service available at the HIV clinic compared to the breast clinic.