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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Kaposi sarcoma

Kaposi sarcoma is a cancer of the blood vessels or lymph system and is known for producing reddish or purple plaques on the skin. The most common form of Kaposi sarcoma is associated with infection by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS.

The AIDS-related version of Kaposi sarcoma can be aggressive if it is not treated. It can form sores on the skin, spread to the lymph nodes and sometimes involve the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, heart and other organs. Treating HIV-infected patients with a so-called cocktail of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has dramatically lowered the U.S. incidence of Kaposi sarcoma. Today, about six in 1 million people are infected with the disease, about an eighth of the incidence rate of the early 1990s.

Symptoms of Kaposi sarcoma

Symptoms typically involve the appearance of purple or reddish spots or plaques on the skin. Transplant-related Kaposi sarcoma, also called iatrogenic Kaposi sarcoma, may cause skin lesions following drug treatments that suppress the immune system.  If the cancer spreads, other symptoms may include:

  • Bleeding in the gastrointestinal system
  • Pain or pressure in the abdomen or chest
  • Swelling in the lower extremities

Advanced treatments for Kaposi sarcoma

Common treatments for Kaposi sarcoma include:

Immune system support: Antiretroviral therapy HAART drugs are often used as a first line of treatment for Kaposi sarcoma. Evidence-based supportive therapies like naturopathy and nutritional support may help strengthen the immune system.

Local therapy: Cryotherapy, or freezing the affected tissue, or radiation therapy may be used to remove small, localized lesions.

Chemotherapy: Patients with advanced Kaposi sarcoma, or those who experience complications while on HAART medications, may be treated with chemotherapy to destroy the cancer cells throughout the body.

Targeted drug therapy: Targeted therapies that block cancer cells from spreading, as well as antiviral and immunotherapy drugs, may be recommended. These therapies may be combined with chemotherapy as part of a Kaposi sarcoma treatment plan.


Last Revised: 01/31/2017

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