Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) is a type of skin cancer caused by the Human herpesvirus 8 (HHV8). There are several categories of KS:
- Classic KS: This affects middle-aged men of Mediterranean or Jewish descent
- African endemic KS: Has appeared in young men from sub-Saharan Africa. KS appears on the skin as flat, reddish lesions and mainly affects the lower extremities.
- Transplant-related KS: Thisis a very rare form of KS. It usually appears in transplant recipients whose organ donor had KS (and the organ harbors the virus, which becomes more prevalent in the unaffected recipient), or the recipient was harboring the KS antibodies and the introduction of the new organ causes an outbreak.
- Epidemic KS: This form of the disease is most closely affiliated with AIDS and HIV patients, where it is 300 times more common than in kidney transplant patients. In the case of epidemic KS, it is transmitted sexually and can cause the patient to become more susceptible to contracting the HIV or AIDS viruses.
- Nonepidemic KS
Signs & Symptoms
One of the most obvious symptoms of KS is the appearance of raised bumps or lesions on the skin’s surface. These growths may be reddish brown, purplish, or black in color and affect the lower extremities, although they can also appear on or in the mouth, face, back, genitals, or gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This condition does spread, but the growth rate can vary.
Patients with AIDS-related KS often develop lesions in their GI tract, which can cause weight loss, pain, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, internal bleeding, or intestinal blockage. Patients who develop lesions in the respiratory tract may experience shortness of breath, fatigue, fever, or chest pain.
Diagnosis & Treatment
KS is classified as a cancer of the lymphatic endothelium. The lesions are actually blood-filled cells and contain distinctive proteins called spindle cells. The skin around the tumor can often become inflamed and become very painful.
Despite its distinctive appearance, a doctor will often perform a physical exam, x-ray, or endoscopy to determine the presence of KS. A biopsy, in which a small sample of the affected tissue is cut away and examined under a microscope, can provide a definitive diagnosis of KS.
Depending on the type of KS, radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery are the most common courses of treatment for this condition.
Although KS cannot be cured, it can be managed and the patient can often live with this condition for many years. The medications prescribed to AIDS patients usually shrink the KS lesions, particularly if the AIDS patient begins rounds of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). However, in some cases the lesions reappear once the HAART treatments end.
A patient’s prognosis depends on their overall health, the type of KS, whether or not the disease has spread, and if it is a newly-diagnosed or recurring case of cancer.