What Causes Kaposi’s Sarcoma?
The underlying cause of Kaposi's sarcoma is an infection with a virus called human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8). It’s also referred to as Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV). This virus is in the same family as the Epstein-Barr virus and is rare in the United States. In healthy patients, HHV-8 infection usually results in no symptoms because the body’s immune system keeps the virus under control. However, in patients with weakened immune systems, HHV-8 has the potential to trigger different types of Kaposi's sarcoma.
Types Of Kaposi’s Sarcoma
There are four different kinds of Kaposi’s sarcoma, based on the populations in which the infection develops. It’s essential to determine the type so patients can seek proper treatment, and dermatologists can develop the ideal, personalized treatment plan for each individual’s case. The four types of Kaposi’s sarcoma include the following.
Epidemic Kaposi’s Sarcoma
Epidemic Kaposi’s sarcoma, or AIDS-associated KS, is the most common type in the U.S. and affects patients with HIV. Kaposi’s sarcoma is considered an AIDS-defining illness, which means that when Kaposi’s sarcoma occurs in a patient infected with HIV, they officially have AIDS and are not just HIV-positive.
Classic Kaposi’s Sarcoma
Classic Kaposi’s sarcoma occurs mainly in older people of Mediterranean, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern heritage, and is more common in men than in women. People typically have one or more lesions on the legs, ankles, or the soles of their feet. Compared to other types of Kaposi’s sarcoma, the wounds don’t grow as quickly, and new lesions do not develop as often.
Endemic Kaposi’s Sarcoma
Endemic Kaposi’s sarcoma occurs mainly in Africa, and Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) infection is much more common in Africa than in other parts of the world. Hence, the risk of disease is higher. Endemic Kaposi’s sarcoma affects a broader group of patients that includes children and women and younger patients, usually under 40.
Iatrogenic Kaposi’s Sarcoma
When Kaposi’s sarcoma develops in patients whose immune systems have been suppressed after an organ transplant, it is called iatrogenic (transplant-related) Kaposi’s sarcoma. Most transplant patients need to take drugs to keep their immune system from rejecting the new organ. But by weakening the body’s immune system, these drugs increase the chance that someone infected with KSHV will develop Kaposi’s sarcoma.
Kaposi’s Sarcoma Symptoms
The symptoms of Kaposi’s sarcoma depend on where the lesions are located either on or inside the body. Kaposi’s sarcoma affects the following parts of the body the most.
- Skin. These are flat, painless spots, red or purple on light skin tones and bluish, brownish, or black on dark skin tones. Unlike bruises, they don't change color when you press on them. They aren't itchy, don't drain, and are not dangerous.
- Mucous membranes. Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions can form inside the mouth and throat, causing trouble eating or swallowing. They might also happen on or around the eyes and under the eyelids.
- Lymph nodes. When Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions block the flow of lymphatic fluid around the body, they can lead to severe swelling in the arms, legs, face, or scrotum.
- Lungs. A more severe form of Kaposi’s sarcoma is when lesions form inside the lungs. This can restrict breathing, or the patient might cough up blood.
- Digestive tract. Lesions in your stomach and intestines can lead to bleeding, blockages, and/or other symptoms, including an upset stomach, vomiting, belly pain, diarrhea, bloody or black stools, and low red blood cell counts.
Kaposi’s Sarcoma Treatments
Treatment for Kaposi’s sarcoma varies based on factors such as the type, location, and number of lesions, as well as their effects and general health of the patient. The most common treatments for Kaposi’s sarcoma include the following. Contact our team of dermatologists and skin specialists to discuss the right treatment for you.
- Excision (Minor Surgery)
- Electrodesiccation (Burning)
- Cryotherapy (Freezing)
- Low-Dose Radiation
- Vitamin-A Topical (Retinoid)
- Radiation (For Multiple Lesions)