Improving Access to Cancer Care in the HIV Population: Qualitative Research to Identify Barriers to Care.
Purpose: People living with HIV are less likely to receive cancer treatment and have worse cancer-specific survival, yet underlying drivers of this disparity have minimally been explored. We investigated cancer care barriers from the perspective of patients living with HIV and cancer (PLWHC) to inform future interventions, reduce disparities, and improve outcomes. Methods: We conducted in-depth semistructured interviews with 27 PLWHC. The interview guide explored perceptions of the cancer care experience, treatment decision making, and barriers to cancer treatment. Interview data were analyzed using the constant comparative method of qualitative analysis. Results: Study participants were predominantly men (n=22, 81%) with a median age of 56 years and median annual income of $24,000. Among those who experienced challenges with cancer treatment adherence, barriers included debilitating side effects of cancer treatment, stigma surrounding HIV, issues with coping and mental health, the financial burden of cancer care, and challenges with care accessibility. Despite these challenges, participants indicated that their past experiences of coping with HIV had prepared them to accept and address their cancer diagnosis. Resiliency and social support were key facilitators for cancer treatment adherence. Conclusion: This qualitative study of PLWHC in the United States found that a cancer diagnosis created a substantial added stress to an already challenging situation. Health- and stigma-related stressors impacted patients' ability to fully complete cancer treatment as prescribed. There is a need for improved provider communication and mental health support for PLWHC to ensure equitable access to and completion of cancer treatment.