Kaposi's Sarcoma

What is Kaposi's sarcoma?

Kaposi's sarcoma is a form of cancer that can affect many different parts of the body at the same time, primarily affecting the skin and mouth. It can also affect the lungs, bowel, lymph nodes, liver and stomach.

Types of Kaposi's sarcoma (KS)

There are four main types of Kaposi's sarcoma. These are:

  • Classic KS
  • Epidemic or AIDS-related KS
  • Endemic or African KS
  • Acquired KS (sometimes known as transplant KS)

Epidemic KS is the most common form and all four types are more common in men than women.

What causes Kaposi's sarcoma?

The major cause of Kaposi's sarcoma is exposure to a virus called human herpes virus 8 (HHV8). Most people who have this virus will never develop KS, but this is a risk factor. People with weakened immune systems are more prone to develop KS and, of all conditions that weaken the immune system, HIV is most commonly linked with KS.

Symptoms of Kaposi's sarcoma

In most cases the first symptom to develop is skin lesions, which may vary in colour and can either be flat or raised. If KS affects other parts of the body, other symptoms may develop, including:

  • Swollen glands (if the lymph nodes are affected)
  • Coughing and breathlessness (if the lungs are affected)
  • Nausea and vomiting (if the bowel or stomach are affected)
  • Anaemia, which may cause tiredness, paleness and weakness

How is Kaposi's sarcoma diagnosed?

If your GP suspects that you have Kaposi's sarcoma, they will get you in contact with a specialist. You will have tests at the hospital, which may include biopsy tests and a CT scan. Test results will be the deciding factor in diagnosis and any treatment plan.

What treatments are available for Kaposi's sarcoma?

The treatment you have will depend on the type of KS and your general health. Classic KS usually develops slowly and does not cause symptoms, so it may not be treated. Epidemic KS is frequently treated using radiotherapy and chemotherapy, Endemic KS is usually treated with chemotherapy and Acquired KS is usually treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, although switching immunosuppressant drugs may be enough to manage the condition.

What is the outlook for people with Kaposi's sarcoma?

The outlook for people with KS depends on the type of KS, the individual's general health and the strength of their immune system. The outlook for Kaposi's sarcoma is very positive compared to most other forms of cancer and in 2009 there were only 7 deaths from the disease in England and Wales.

Living with Kaposi's sarcoma

Living with Kaposi's sarcoma is very complicated and you may struggle to come terms with your diagnosis, especially if KS is the first sign that you have HIV. Your care team will be on hand to answer any questions and help you through the treatment process. But, if you need more information, someone to talk to or support, you can contact cancer charities based in the UK.

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