Before the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Kaposi sarcoma was seen mainly in older Italian and Jewish men, and rarely, in older women. Among this group, the tumors developed slowly. In people with HIV/AIDS, the cancer can develop quickly. It may also involve the:
- Gastrointestinal tract
- Other organs
In people with HIV/AIDS, Kaposi sarcoma is caused by an interaction between the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a weakened immune system, and the human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8). Kaposi sarcoma has been linked to the spread of HIV/AIDS and HHV-8 through sexual activity.
People who have kidney or other organ transplants are also at risk for Kaposi sarcoma.
African Kaposi sarcoma is fairly common in young adult males living near the equator. One form is also common in young African children.
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a physical exam, focusing on the lesions.
The following tests may be performed to diagnose Kaposi sarcoma:
Treating Kaposi sarcoma does not improve the chances of survival from HIV/AIDS itself. The outlook depends on the person's immune status and how much of the HIV virus is in their blood (viral load). If the HIV is controlled with medicine the lesions will often shrink away on their own.
Complications can include:
- Cough (possibly bloody) and shortness of breath if the disease is in the lungs
- Leg swelling that may be painful or cause infections if the disease is in the lymph nodes of the legs
The tumors can return even after treatment. Kaposi sarcoma can be deadly for a person with AIDS.
An aggressive form of African Kaposi sarcoma can spread quickly to the bones. Another form found in African children does not affect the skin. Instead, it spreads through the lymph nodes and vital organs, and can quickly become deadly.
Safer sexual practices can prevent HIV infection. This prevents HIV/AIDS and its complications, including Kaposi sarcoma.
Kaposi sarcoma almost never occurs in people with HIV/AIDS whose disease is well-controlled.
The tumors (lesions) most often appear as bluish-red or purple bumps on the skin. They are reddish-purple because they are rich in blood vessels.
How this condition is treated depends on:
- How much the immune system is suppressed (immunosuppression)
- Number and location of the tumors
- Antiviral therapy against HIV, since there is no specific therapy for HHV-8
- Combination chemotherapy
- Freezing the lesions
- Radiation therapy
Lesions may return after treatment.
Kaye KM. Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (human herpesvirus 8). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 143.
Lambert PF, Sugden B. Viruses and human cancer. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014:chap 11.