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What is Kaposi’s sarcoma?

Kaposi's sarcoma, caused by the human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8), is a form of cancer that affects the lining cells of the lymph and blood vessels.

Types of Kaposi’s sarcoma

  • Epidemic Kaposi Sarcoma: This is the most common form and develops in people who have a diagnosis of stage 3 HIV. It is considered an AIDS-defining illness.
  • Classic Kaposi Sarcoma: This is also known as indolent Kaposi sarcoma. It occurs mainly in older adults from Eastern European, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern regions. Classic Kaposi sarcoma affects men more than women. These lesions grow more slowly than the other types.
  • African Cutaneous Kaposi Sarcoma or Endemic KS: This is seen in people living in sub-Saharan Africa, likely due to the prevalence of HHV-8 there.
  • Iatrogenic Kaposi Sarcoma or transplant-related KS: This type may develop after taking drugs that suppress the immune system to prevent rejection of an organ transplant. A person carrying Kaposi’s sarcoma herpes virus and receiving immunosuppressant medications is likely to develop Kaposi sarcoma.

Symptoms ofKaposi’s sarcoma

Sign and symptoms of Kaposi’s sarcoma include:

  • Painless purple spots on the legs, feet, or face.
  • Lesions may also appear in the genital area, mouth, or lymph nodes.

In severe cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma pain and lesions may develop in the digestive tract and lungs.

Diagnosing Kaposi’s sarcoma

To diagnose Kaposi’s sarcoma, your doctor will discuss your signs and symptoms, check your medical history, and perform a physical examination. The following tests may be performed:

  • Biopsy: This is conducted by removing a small piece of tissue from the suspected lesion for laboratory examination.
  • Endoscopy: This test can detect abnormalities in the upper GI tract including the esophagus and stomach. A biopsy may be obtained with the help of the endoscope.
  • Bronchoscopy: This is an endoscopy of the lungs.
  • Chest X-ray: This test looks for abnormalities in the lung which may be due to Kaposi sarcoma.
  • Colonoscopy: Lesions in the rectum or colon can be identified and biopsied during this test.
  • Fecal occult blood test: This test detects bleeding that may occur from lesions in the digestive tract

Treatment forKaposi’s sarcoma

Treatment with antiretroviral drugs usually helps control Kaposi’s sarcoma. Other treatments include:

  • Local therapy which is usually indicated when lesions are few and small in size. These include:
    • Surgical excision: In this procedure, the lesion is removed using a scalpel or curette.
    • Cryotherapy: In this procedure, the lesion is destroyed by freezing with liquid nitrogen.
    • Electrocoagulation: In this procedure, the heat generated from an electric current is used to destroy the lesion.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy is used for those who have multiple skin lesions.
  • Chemotherapy: This treatment is used when there are a large number of lesions or internal lesions such as those involving the lymph nodes and digestive system.

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