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Kaposi Sarcoma: Surgery and Other Local Treatments

Surgery and other types of local treatment can sometimes be used to remove or destroy Kaposi sarcoma (KS) lesions. Local treatments are those that treat only 1 area of the body, They don't treat the whole body.

When might surgery or other local treatments be used for Kaposi sarcoma?

Local treatments are sometimes used to treat 1 or more KS lesions that are grouped in a small area of the body that's visible such as the face. The goal of this treatment is to remove or destroy the lesions to help you look or feel better. A downside to local treatments is that they can't stop new KS lesions from forming in other parts of the body.

Types of local treatments for Kaposi sarcoma

Several types of local treatments can be used for KS lesions. 


Removing the lesions with surgery is sometimes an option. There are 2 main ways to remove KS lesions:

  • Simple excision. In this method, the skin is numbed, and the lesion along with a small edge of healthy skin around it is removed with a surgical knife.

  • Curettage and electrodessication. In this procedure, the skin is numbed, and the lesion is removed with a sharp, spoon-shaped tool (curette). An electric current is then applied to the area to stop bleeding and destroy any remaining cancer cells.  

Cryosurgery (cryotherapy)

For this treatment, the healthcare provider puts very cold liquid nitrogen on the lesion to freeze and kill the cancer cells. This method is most useful for small lesions on the face. It can be repeated if needed.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

In this treatment, the healthcare provider puts a liquid medicine right on the lesion. It collects in the cancer cells and makes them more sensitive to some kinds of light. The cells are given time to absorb the medicine. Then a special light is applied to the cells, which kills them. This treatment can make the area very sensitive to sunlight for a time. So it's very important to keep the area covered up. 

Topical therapy

This treatment uses a type of medicine called a retinoid, which is related to vitamin A. You put the medicine right on the lesion 2 to 4 times a day. It can shrink the lesion over time. The retinoid used most often is alitretinoin.

Imiquimod is another medicine that's put onto the lesion to shrink it or even make it go away. It's put on 3 times a day for about 6 month.

A drawback of topical treatments is that they can cause the area to become red and swollen. This limits their use.

Intralesional chemotherapy

Some KS lesions can be treated by injecting them with a small amount of chemotherapy medicine. The medicine is often vinblastine. This can cause the lesion to shrink over time. This treatment might need to be repeated. Side effects can include swelling, pain, and blistering.

Radiation therapy

High-energy X-rays or other types of radiation can be used to treat some KS lesions. This is especially true if they're larger and unlikely to be helped by other local treatments. This type of treatment is covered in more detail in a separate article.

Talk with your healthcare team

If you have any questions about your treatment, talk with your healthcare team. They can help you know what to expect before, during, and after local treatments.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2018
© 2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.