Kaposi sarcoma is a type of cancer that develops in the lining of the blood and lymph vessels as a result of a human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8) infection. An HHV-8 infection can cause the cells lining the blood and lymph vessels to begin dividing uncontrollably, and if the dividing cells invade surrounding tissues, the buildup of excess cells can form lesions in various parts of the body.
Kaposi sarcoma symptoms
The lesions associated with Kaposi sarcoma are most likely to develop on the skin of the face, legs or feet. These lesions are typically painless and often resemble bruises. Lesions may also appear in the mouth, lymph nodes or genital area, and in rare cases, may form in the lungs or digestive tract.
Additional symptoms will vary depending on where the lesions develop within the body:
- Mouth – Lesions in the mouth can make it difficult to eat, swallow and speak.
- Lungs – Lesions in the lungs can cause coughing and difficulty breathing and may also lead to a chest infection.
- Legs – If lesions on the legs produce painful swelling (lymphoedema), it may be difficult to move around.
- Lymph nodes – Lesions in the lymph nodes can cause painful swelling within the arms and legs.
Kaposi sarcoma causes and risk factors
As noted above, Kaposi sarcoma is primarily caused by a human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8) infection. This type of infection is more likely to develop in an individual with a weakened immune system. So, someone will have a higher risk of contracting an HHV-8 infection—and in turn, Kaposi sarcoma—if they have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or take immunosuppressant medication (for example, corticosteroids). Older men of Jewish or Mediterranean descent, as well as young men in Africa, are also more likely to develop Kaposi sarcoma.
Kaposi sarcoma diagnosis
The method used to diagnose Kaposi sarcoma will depend on where the resulting lesions are located. For example, if someone has a skin lesion that suggests the presence of Kaposi sarcoma, a physician will typically perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. But if the person’s lesions are internal, then the physician will likely order one or more of the following diagnostic tests:
- Chest X-ray
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Fecal occult blood test
- Upper endoscopy
Kaposi sarcoma treatment
Treatment for Kaposi sarcoma will vary based on factors such as the patient’s overall health, the number and location of lesions present and whether the lesions are causing any discomfort. For example, small skin lesions may be treated using:
- Surgery (excision)
- Burning (electrodessication)
- Freezing (cryotherapy)
- Low-dose radiation therapy
- Retinoid application
It’s also common for Kaposi sarcoma treatment to involve taking steps to strengthen the immune system. Individuals with compromised immune systems need to be extra cautious, since many of the treatments traditionally used to fight cancer—for example, chemotherapy—could be detrimental to their health.
Treatment for Kaposi sarcoma at Moffitt
If you’re experiencing the symptoms of Kaposi sarcoma, it’s important to not delay seeking professional advice. Fortunately, you can turn to Moffitt Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida. Our experienced providers are highly skilled at treating Kaposi sarcoma and various other types of sarcomas, and after diagnosing exactly what’s causing your symptoms, we’ll develop a customized treatment approach that’s perfectly individualized to your needs.
You can request a consultation at Moffitt Cancer Center by calling us at 1-888-663-3488 or filling out a new patient registration form online. When you do, we’ll connect you to a cancer expert within just one day. We know how stressful it can be to wait on a potential cancer diagnosis, so we’re taking steps to ensure that our patients have the support they need every step of the way.