Is Kaposi’s Sarcoma?
Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) is a cancerous tumor. It commonly
appears in multiple locations on the skin and around one or more the following
It can also grow on the internal organs. It’s due to a virus
called the Human herpesvirus 8, or
According to the American
Cancer Society, Kaposi’s sarcoma is an “AIDS-defining” condition. That means
that when KS is present in someone who’s HIV-positive, their HIV has progressed
to AIDS. Generally, it also means their immune system is suppressed to the
point that KS can develop.
However, if you have KS, that doesn’t
necessarily mean you have AIDS. KS
can develop in an otherwise healthy person as well.
Are the Types of Kaposi’s Sarcoma?
There are several types of KS:
AIDS-Related Kaposi’s Sarcoma
In the HIV-positive population, KS appears almost
exclusively in homosexual men rather than others who contracted HIV through intravenous
drug use or through receiving a transfusion. Controlling the HIV infection with
antiretroviral therapy has made a large impact on the development of KS.
Classic Kaposi’s Sarcoma
Classic, or indolent, KS develops most often in older men of
southern Mediterranean or Eastern European descent. It typically appears first
on the legs and feet. Less commonly, it can also affect the lining of the mouth
and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It slowly progresses over many years and often
isn’t the cause of death.
African Cutaneous Kaposi’s Sarcoma
African Cutaneous KS is seen in people living in sub-Saharan
Africa, likely due to the prevalence of HHV-8 there.
Immunosuppression-Related Kaposi’s Sarcoma
Immunosuppression-related KS appears in people who have had
kidney or other organ transplants. It’s related to immunosuppressive
medications given to help the body accept a new organ. It may also be related
to the donor organ containing HHV-8. The course is similar to classic KS.
What Are the Symptoms of Kaposi’s Sarcoma?
Cutaneous KS looks like a flat or raised red or purple patch
on the skin. KS often appears on the face, around the nose or mouth, or around
the genitals or anus. It may have many appearances in different shapes and
sizes, and the lesion may change quickly over time. The lesion may also bleed
or ulcerate when its surface breaks down. If it affects the lower legs, swelling
of the leg can also occur.
KS can affect internal organs like the lungs, liver, and
intestines, but this is less common than KS that affects the skin. When this
happens, there are often no visible signs or symptoms. However, depending on
the location and size, you may experience bleeding if your lungs or
gastrointestinal tract is involved. Shortness of breath can also occur. Another
area that may develop KS is the lining of the inner mouth. Any one of these
symptoms is a reason to seek medical attention.
Even though it often progresses slowly, KS can ultimately be
fatal. You should always seek treatment for KS.
The forms of KS that appear in men and young children who
live in tropical Africa are the most serious. If they’re left untreated, these
forms can result in death within a few years.
Because indolent KS appears in older people and takes many
years to develop and grow, many people die of another condition before their KS
becomes serious enough to be fatal.
AIDS-related KS is usually treatable and not a cause of
death by itself.
Is Kaposi’s Sarcoma Diagnosed?
Your doctor can usually diagnose KS by a visual inspection
and by asking some questions about your health history. Because other
conditions might look similar to KS, a second test may be necessary. If there
are no visible symptoms of KS but your doctor is suspicious you may have it, you
may need more testing.
Testing for KS can occur through any of the following
methods, depending on where the suspected lesion is:
- A biopsy involves the removal of cells from the
suspected site. Your doctor will send this sample to a lab for testing.
- An X-ray can help your doctor look for signs of
KS in the lungs.
- An endoscopy is a procedure for viewing inside
of the upper GI tract, which includes the esophagus and stomach. Your doctor
can use a long, thin tube with a camera and a biopsy tool on the end to see the
inside of the GI tract and take biopsies or tissue samples.
- A bronchoscopy is an endoscopy of the lungs.
Are the Treatments for Kaposi’s Sarcoma?
There are several ways to treat KS, including:
- interferon, which is an antiviral agent
Talk with your doctor to determine the best treatment.
Depending on the situation, observation may also be recommended in some
instances. For many people with AIDS-related KS, treating AIDS with antiretroviral
therapy may be enough to also treat the KS.
There are a few ways to remove KS tumors surgically. Surgery
is used if someone only has a few small lesions, and it may be the only
Cryotherapy may be done to freeze and kill the tumor. Electrodesiccation
can be done to burn and kill the tumor. These therapies treat only the
individual lesions and can’t keep new lesions from developing since they don’t
affect the underlying HHV-8 infection.
Doctors use chemotherapy with caution because many patients
already have a reduced immune system. The most commonly used drug to treat KS
is doxorubicin lipid complex (Doxil). Chemotherapy is usually only used when
there’s a large skin involvement, when KS is causing symptoms in the internal
organs, or when small skin lesions don’t respond to any of the removal
Interferon is a protein that naturally occurs in the human
body. A doctor can inject the medically developed version to help patients with
KS if they have a healthy immune system.
Radiation is targeted, high-energy rays aimed at a
particular part of the body. Radiation therapy is only useful when the lesions don’t
appear over a large part of the body.
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
KS is curable with treatment. In most cases, it develops
very slowly. However, without treatment, it can sometimes be fatal. It’s always
important to discuss treatment options with your doctor
Don’t expose anyone to your lesions if you think you may
have KS. See your doctor and begin treatment right away.
Can I Keep Prevent Kaposi’s Sarcoma?
You shouldn’t touch the lesions of anyone who has KS.
If you’re HIV-positive, have had an organ transplant, or are
otherwise more likely to develop KS, your doctor may suggest highly active
antiretroviral therapy (HAART). HAART reduces the likelihood that people who
are HIV-positive will develop KS and AIDS because it fights the HIV infection.