Kaposi Sarcoma: Overview
What is Kaposi sarcoma?
Cancer is made of changed cells that grow out of control. The
changed (abnormal) cells often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cancer
cells can also grow into (invade) nearby areas. And they can spread to other parts
of the body. This is called metastasis.
In Kaposi sarcoma (KS), cancer starts in the cells that form the
lining of lymph or blood vessels. KS makes purple, brown, or red skin patches or
tumors on or under the skin. These patches are called lesions. They can also happen
in many other parts of the body, such as the liver, the lungs, the stomach, and
inside the mouth. KS gets its name from Moritz Kaposi, the doctor who first
There are several types of KS. AIDS-related KS, also called
epidemic KS, is the most common type in the U.S. It occurs in people who are
infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Who is at risk for Kaposi sarcoma?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having
a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors
can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in
your control. But others may be things you can change.
These are some risk factors for KS:
Ethnic background, such as being of Mediterranean or Jewish
Infection with human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8), also called
Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV)
A weakened immune system. This might be from HIV or if you
are taking medicines after an organ transplant.
Sexual orientation. This is because men who have sex with
men and bisexual men have a higher risk for both HHV-8 and HIV infections.
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for KS
and what you can do about them.
Can Kaposi sarcoma be prevented?
There’s no sure way to prevent KS. But you may be able to lower
your risk for it:
Are there screening tests for Kaposi sarcoma?
There are no regular screening tests for anal cancer in people
at average risk. Screening tests are done to check for disease in people who
don’t have symptoms.
If you are at high risk for KS, you may be screened with
regular exams to check the skin for lesions and look for any unusual lumps or
What are the symptoms of Kaposi sarcoma?
KS might not cause symptoms, but it most often starts as
discolored lesions on the skin. These can be flat, raised, or even small lumps.
Lesions most often are first found on the face or legs.
Other symptoms include:
Lesions in the mouth or in the genital area
Problems caused by lesions in certain parts of the body,
Lesions in the lungs can cause shortness of
breath or coughing up blood
Lesions in the digestive tract can cause belly
pain, diarrhea, and bloody stool
Lesions that block lymph nodes or lymph vessels
can cause severe swelling in different parts of the body, such as
the legs and feet
Many of these may be caused by other health problems. But it’s
important to see a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare
provider can tell if you have cancer.
How is Kaposi sarcoma diagnosed?
The most common way to find KS is when a person sees a doctor
because of a discolored patch or lump on their skin. The healthcare provider will
ask you about your health history, symptoms, risk factors, and family history of
disease. A physical exam will be done.
You may also have one or more of these tests:
A biopsy is the only way to know if a lump or change is cancer.
Small pieces of tissue are taken and checked for cancer cells.
After a diagnosis of KS, you’ll likely need more tests. These help
your healthcare providers learn more about the cancer. The test results help your
healthcare providers decide the best ways to treat the cancer. They can help
determine the stage of the cancer. The stage is how much and how far the cancer has
spread (metastasized) in your body. It is one of the most important things to know
when deciding how to treat the cancer.
Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk
with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Be sure to ask your
healthcare provider to explain the stage of your cancer to you in a way you can
How is Kaposi sarcoma treated?
Your treatment choices depend on the type of cancer you have, test
results, and the stage of the cancer. The goal of treatment may be to cure you,
control the cancer, or help ease problems caused by the cancer. Talk with your
healthcare team about your treatment choices, the goals of treatment, and what the
risks and side effects may be.
Types of treatment for cancer are either local or systemic. Local
treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area. Surgery and
radiation are local treatments. Systemic treatment is used to destroy or control
cancer cells that may have traveled around your body. When taken by pill or
injection, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. You may have just one treatment or
a combination of treatments.
Treatment for KS may include:
Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options.
Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each
option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a
What are treatment side effects?
Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation can damage
normal cells. This can cause side effects such as hair loss, mouth sores, and
Talk with your healthcare provider about side effects you might
have and ways to manage them. There may be things you can do and medicines you can
take to help prevent or control side effects.
Coping with Kaposi sarcoma
Many people feel worried, depressed, and stressed when dealing
with cancer. Getting treatment for cancer can be hard on the mind and body. Keep
talking with your healthcare team about any problems or concerns you have. Work
together to ease the effect of cancer and its symptoms on your daily life.
Here are tips:
Talk with your family or friends.
Ask your healthcare team or social worker for help.
Speak with a counselor.
Talk with a spiritual advisor, such as a minister or
Ask your healthcare team about medicines for depression or
Keep socially active.
Join a cancer support group.
Cancer treatment is also hard on the body. To help yourself stay
healthier, try to:
Eat a healthy diet, with a focus on high-protein foods.
Drink plenty of water, fruit juices, and other liquids.
Keep physically active.
Rest as much as needed.
Talk with your healthcare team about ways to manage
treatment side effects.
Take your medicines as directed by your team.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about when to call.
You may be told to call if you have any of the below:
New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
Signs of an infection, such as a fever
Side effects of treatment that affect your daily function or
don’t get better with treatment
Ask your healthcare provider what signs to watch for and when to
call. Know how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to
Before your visit, write down questions you want
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and
remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and
any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions
your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how
it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the
results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have
the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date,
time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have