Kaposi's Sarcoma

Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) is a disease in which cancer or malignant cells are found in the tissues under the skin or mucous membranes that line the mouth, nose and anus.

Until the early 1980s, Kaposi's sarcoma was a very rare disease found mainly in older men, patients who had organ transplants or African men. With the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, doctors began to notice more cases of Kaposi's sarcoma in Africa and in gay men with AIDS. Kaposi's sarcoma usually spreads more quickly in these patients.

The chance of recovery depends on what type of Kaposi's sarcoma you have, your age and general health, and whether or not you have AIDS. Although KS often responds well to treatment, recurrent disease is common. This means that KS will likely recur after it has been treated. It may come back in the area where it first started or in another part of the body.

If there are signs of Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), a doctor will examine the skin and lymph nodes carefully. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body. They produce and store infection-fighting cells. The doctor also may recommend other tests to see if the patient has other diseases.

KS causes red or purple patches, called lesions, on the skin as well as on mucous membranes. It may spread to other organs in the body, such as the lungs, liver or intestinal tract.

Patients are grouped depending on which type of Kaposi's sarcoma they have. There are three types of Kaposi's sarcoma:

  • Classic — Classic Kaposi's sarcoma is often described as occurring mainly in older men of Jewish, Italian or Mediterranean heritage. However, it also is relatively more common throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, South America, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe than in Western Europe and the United States.

    This type of Kaposi's sarcoma progresses slowly, sometimes over a period of 10 to 15 years. As the disease gets worse, the lower legs may swell and the blood may not be able to flow properly. After some time, the disease may spread to other organs.
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Four kinds of treatment generally are used to treat patients with Kaposi's sarcoma:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer
  • Chemotherapy, using drugs to kill cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, using high-dose X-rays to kill cancer cells
  • Biological therapy, using the body's immune system to fight cancer


Surgery means removing the cancer. A doctor may remove the cancer using one of the following:

  • Surgically cutting out the lesion and some of the tissue around it
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage to burn the lesion and remove it with a sharp instrument
  • Cryotherapy to freeze the tumor and kill it

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.