What is Kaposi’s Sarcoma and How it Can Be Treated



Kaposi’s sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that causes the formation of lesions or tumors in the lining of blood and lymph vessels. These lesions generally appear as painless, purple-colored spots on the feet and legs. Sometimes, the lesions may also develop in the genital area, lymph nodes, face, and mouth. In severe cases, the tumors may develop in the lungs and digestive tract and cause other complications too. A doctor at a Los Angeles community health clinic can help you discuss your risk factors for Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Causes of Kaposi’s Sarcoma

Studies have linked Kaposi’s sarcoma with an infection that is caused by human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8). In a healthy person, HHV-8 infection may not lead to any symptoms because the immune system keeps it in check. Yet in people with a weakened immune system, HHV-8 can trigger Kaposi’s sarcoma and even cause other disorders.

Large lesions in the mouth and throat can lead to difficulty in eating while tumors in the lungs can cause breathlessness and fatigue. Oftentimes, lesions on the upper legs and groin area can lead to painful swelling and make moving around very difficult for the infected person.

It is seen that individuals diagnosed with HIV are more vulnerable to developing Kaposi’s sarcoma. That is because the human immunodeficiency virus weakens the immune system of the infected person as well as allows HHV-8 to multiply. Other than that, individuals who have undergone an organ transplant or those who take immune system-suppressing drugs are also at a higher risk of developing Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Treatment Options for Kaposi’s Sarcoma

The treatment for Kaposi’s sarcoma will depend upon the type of the disease as well as its severity. In AIDS-related cases, the condition may be more complicated and require administering antiviral drug combinations to control the spread of the disease as well as prevent other AIDS-related infections. Likewise, the treatment plan will also be based on where the lesions have formed.

In most cases, treatments for small skin lesions may include minor surgery, electrodesiccation, or cryotherapy. It may be coupled with low-dose radiation and/or injecting chemotherapy drugs like vinblastine directly into lesions. The application of a vitamin A-like drug (retinoid) is also a common treatment approach for Kaposi’s sarcoma. In any case, the doctor will determine the right treatment considering the effects of the lesions as well.

The general health conditions also play a major role in deciding the treatment plan for Kaposi’s sarcoma. For instance, the infection may make the immune system of the patient too weak at times to recommend powerful chemotherapy drugs. Similarly, it may also make the other conditions more complicated, rendering the treatment for Kaposi’s sarcoma risky. This is especially the case when the individual is suffering from another type of cancer, serious diabetes, or any other chronic disease. 

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    About the Author

    Dr. Ghassan M. Al-Jazayrly, MD

    A graduate of University of Aleppo Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Al-Jazayrly or, as he is colloquially known: Dr. AJ, is an oncologist and hematologist of a Complete Care Community Health Center (CCCHC) with more than 36 years of experience. In recent years, he’s been involved with a non profit organization known as Every Woman Counts (EWC) which provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations in order to eliminate health disparities for low-income individuals.

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