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Kaposi Sarcoma Treatment (PDQ®)

General Information About Kaposi Sarcoma

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:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking skin and lymph nodes for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body. This is used to find Kaposi sarcoma in the lungs.
  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.

    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.

    • Endoscopy for biopsy: A procedure to look at organs and tissues inside the body to check for abnormal areas. An endoscope is inserted through an incision (cut) in the skin or opening in the body, such as the mouth. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or lymph node samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of disease. This is used to find Kaposi sarcoma lesions in the gastrointestinal tract.
    • Bronchoscopy for biopsy: A procedure to look inside the trachea and large airways in the lung for abnormal areas. A bronchoscope is inserted through the nose or mouth into the trachea and lungs. A bronchoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of disease. This is used to find Kaposi sarcoma lesions in the 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:

  • Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease in the organ or tissue that makes it.
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the lung, liver, and spleen, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do. This imaging test checks for signs of cancer in the lung, liver, and spleen.
  • CD34 lymphocyte count: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amount of CD34 cells (a type of white blood cell). A lower than normal amount of CD34 cells can be a sign the immune system is not working well.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The type of Kaposi sarcoma.
  • The general health of the patient, especially the patient's immune system.
  • Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).

Date last modified: 2014-10-15

Recurrent Kaposi Sarcoma

Recurrent Kaposi sarcoma is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the skin or in other parts of the body.

Date last modified: 2014-10-15

Treatment Option Overview

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, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is used to slow the progression of AIDS. HAART 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

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.

Surgery

The following surgical procedures may be used for Kaposi sarcoma to treat small, surface lesions:

  • Local excision: The cancer is cut from the skin along with a small amount of normal tissue around it.
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage: The tumor is cut from the skin with a curette (a sharp, spoon-shaped tool). A needle-shaped electrode is then used to treat the area with an electric current that stops the bleeding and destroys cancer cells that remain around the edge of the wound. The process may be repeated one to three times during the surgery to remove all of the cancer.
  • Cryosurgery: A treatment that uses an instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue. This type of treatment is also called cryotherapy.

Chemotherapy

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, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). To treat local Kaposi sarcoma lesions, such as in the mouth, anticancer drugs may be injected directly into the lesion (intralesional chemotherapy). Sometimes the chemotherapy is given as a topical agent (applied to the skin as a gel.) The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type of cancer being treated.

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

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.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Targeted therapy

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 is one type 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.

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. This is sometimes called re-staging.

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.

Treatment Options for Kaposi Sarcoma

Classic Kaposi Sarcoma

Treatment for single lesions may include the following:

Treatment for lesions all over the body may include the following:

Treatment for Kaposi sarcoma that affects lymph nodes or the gastrointestinal tract usually includes chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with classic Kaposi sarcoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Immunosuppressive Therapy–related Kaposi Sarcoma

Treatment for immunosuppressive therapy–related Kaposi sarcoma may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with immunosuppressive treatment related Kaposi sarcoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Epidemic Kaposi Sarcoma

Treatment for epidemic Kaposi sarcoma may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Recurrent Kaposi Sarcoma

Treatment for recurrent Kaposi sarcoma depends on which type of Kaposi sarcoma the patient has. Treatment may include a clinical trial of a new therapy.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent Kaposi sarcoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Date last modified: 2014-10-15

To Learn More About Kaposi Sarcoma

For more information from the National Cancer Institute about Kaposi sarcoma, see the following:

For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:

Changes to This Summary (10/15/2014)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Editorial changes were made to this summary.

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Date last modified: 2014-10-15

Last updated: 2014-11-05

Source: The National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query (PDQ®) Cancer Information Summaries (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq)