Kaposi sarcoma is a disease in which malignant tumors (cancer) can form in the skin, mucous membranes, lymph nodes, and other organs.
Kaposi sarcoma is a cancer that causes lesions (abnormal tissue) to grow in the skin; the mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose, and throat; lymph nodes; or other organs. The lesions are usually purple and are made of cancer cells, new blood vessels, red blood cells, and white blood cells. Kaposi sarcoma is different from other cancers in that lesions may begin in more than one place in the body at the same time.
Human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8) is found in the lesions of all patients with Kaposi sarcoma. This virus is also called Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV). Most people infected with HHV-8 do not get Kaposi sarcoma. Those infected with HHV-8 who are most likely to develop Kaposi sarcoma have immune systems weakened by disease or by drugs given after an organ transplant.
There are several types of Kaposi sarcoma, including:
Tests that examine the skin, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract are used to detect (find) and diagnose Kaposi sarcoma.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
One of the following types of biopsies may be done to check for Kaposi sarcoma lesions in the skin:
An endoscopy or bronchoscopy may be done to check for Kaposi sarcoma lesions in the gastrointestinal tract or lungs.
After Kaposi sarcoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.
The following tests and procedures may be used to find out if cancer has spread to other parts of the body:
There are different types of treatment for patients with Kaposi sarcoma.
Different types of treatments are available for patients with Kaposi sarcoma. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Treatment of epidemic Kaposi sarcoma combines treatment for Kaposi sarcoma with treatment for AIDS.
For the treatment of epidemic Kaposi sarcoma, combined antiretroviral therapy (cART) is used to slow the progression of AIDS. cART may be combined with anticancer drugs and medicines that prevent and treat infections.
Four types of standard treatment are used to treat Kaposi sarcoma:
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type of cancer being treated.
Certain types of external radiation therapy are used to treat Kaposi sarcoma lesions. Photon radiation therapy treats lesions with high-energy light. Electron beam radiation therapy uses tiny negatively charged particles called electrons.
The following surgical procedures may be used for Kaposi sarcoma to treat small, surface lesions:
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, tissue, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). In electrochemotherapy, intravenous chemotherapy is given and a probe is used to send electric pulses to the tumor. The pulses make an opening in the membrane around the tumor cell and allow the chemotherapy to get inside. Electrochemotherapy is being studied in the treatment of Kaposi sarcoma.
The way the chemotherapy is given depends on where the Kaposi sarcoma lesions occur in the body. In Kaposi sarcoma, chemotherapy may be given in the following ways:
Liposomal chemotherapy uses liposomes (very tiny fat particles) to carry anticancer drugs. Liposomal doxorubicin is used to treat Kaposi sarcoma. The liposomes build up in Kaposi sarcoma tissue more than in healthy tissue, and the doxorubicin is released slowly. This increases the effect of the doxorubicin and causes less damage to healthy tissue.
See Drugs Approved for Kaposi Sarcoma for more information.
Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy. Interferon alfa is a biologic agent used to treat Kaposi sarcoma.
See Drugs Approved for Kaposi Sarcoma for more information.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Monoclonal antibody therapy and tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) are types of targeted therapy being studied in the treatment of Kaposi sarcoma.
Monoclonal antibody therapy is a cancer treatment that uses antibodies made in the laboratory from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. These may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.
Bevacizumab is a monoclonal antibody that is being studied in the treatment of Kaposi sarcoma.
TKIs are targeted therapy drugs that block signals needed for tumors to grow.
Imatinib mesylate is a TKI being studied in the treatment of Kaposi sarcoma.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.