Kaposi Sarcoma – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Kaposi sarcoma is rare cancer type that affects the skin, lymph nodes and mouth. It was Moritz Kaposi who invented this cancer in 1872 and hence the name Kaposi sarcoma. This cancer is characterized by abnormal growth of blood vessels and the presence of malignant lesions. This disease is caused by HIV virus and is prevalent in persons with weak immunity. The symptom of this disease is a clear signal that immune system is compromised. Due to advanced technology in medication, effective drugs have considerably reduced the chances of developing KS.

How Prevalent Is The Sarcoma?

People with compromised (weak) immunity are at high risk of developing Kaposi sarcoma. In 1980’s many cases of AIDS patients had developed KS also. Now due to HAART therapy the number of cases has drastically reduced in recent years. In countries like Zimbabwe and some other African regions still the number of KS cases is high.

Kaposi Sarcoma

Kaposi Sarcoma Causes

Herpes virus by name HHV-8 (Human Herpes Virus) is the root cause for Kaposi sarcoma. Men are more affected than women and the virus can easily be transmitted by sexual intercourse.

Kaposi Sarcoma Symptoms

Kaposi sarcoma affects your skin, mouth and the lymph nodes. Small sized tumors are formed beneath the skin surface and also on the mouth, nose and eyes. In some cases, the virus can spread to the viral organs like lungs, liver and stomach.

The skin lesions are flat papules appearing dark red or purple in color. Dark complexioned people will develop bluish or brownish skin lesions. These lesions are often seen in the form of raised bumps with a clear border. But they are painless and itch-free. Depending on the intensity of virus growth some people will develop more number of lesions than others where the process is slow.

In case the sarcoma spreads into the lymph nodes, the affected person may have difficulty in eating and drinking apart from severe abdominal pain due to internal bleeding. He/she may have nausea and vomiting sensation. It can also cause swelling of lymph nodes in the arms and legs and even on the face. In extreme cases, the person may have trouble in normal breathing.

Who Are At Risk ?

Kaposi sarcoma develops more in men than women (for no reason). Certain group of people like Caucasian men of Middle East and Mediterranean region are at high risk. Gay men have increased risk of developing KS. Individuals with weakened immunity (like those affected with HIV/AIDS) are prone to develop this cancer. KS have wide chances of spreading to your sex partner.


Mere physical examination of the patient is enough for diagnosing KS in most of the cases. Biopsy of the tissue sample is taken beneath the skin to confirm the diagnoses. In severe cases, your doctor may conduct bronchoscopy to find how far the lymph nodes of the lungs are affected. For individuals with severe abdominal pain, endoscopy of the intestine is done. For patients with respiratory difficulty, CXR is done.

Before starting any treatment, the doctor will assess the type and intensity of cancer based on three rating scales given below:-

Extent of tumor (how far the tumor causing cells have spread into the body), status of immunity (can be measured by blood count) and the extent of systemic illness (how far the cancer have involved other organs) are the 3 criteria used for treatment.


HAART therapy is very effective method for treating Kaposi sarcoma. Skin lesions can be removed by other ways like using liquid nitrogen, using radiation therapy, removing by injection of alpha interferon and by removing it surgically.

Chemotherapy is done if the case is severe and the tumor has spread far into the internal organs. Anti cancer drugs like Velban, Bleomycin, Oncovin, Doxil or Taxol are prescribed. However chemotherapy drugs can cause unwanted effects like loss of hair, fever, constipation, diarrhea, mouth sores, and change in skin color and numbness in extremities. Biological therapy is the process of activating the body’s own immune system to produce more number of antibodies for destroying virus.


There are no specific methods to prevent developing KS. One can practice safe sex and go for regular health checkups to assure that immune system is functioning well.

Source : American Cancer Society

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