There is no such thing as routine Kaposi sarcoma. Every patient’s Kaposi’s sarcoma is different, with different, individually unique genes and molecules driving each person’s specific cancer.

At the OSUCCC – James, our Kaposi sarcoma specialists are world-renowned cancer experts who focus solely on Kaposi sarcoma and who reach across medical disciplines (oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, pharmacists and more) to design the very best treatment plan and therapies to target each patient’s specific cancer.

And by offering access to the country’s most advanced clinical trials right here at the OSUCCC – James, patients know that additional options, when needed, are often available for their treatment and care.

Facts About Kaposi Sarcoma

Kaposi sarcoma is a rare type of soft tissue sarcoma. Sarcomas are cancers that affect the soft tissues of the body. Soft tissue refers to any tissue that surrounds or supports other structures within the body including connective tissue such as nerves, blood vessels or tendons.

Kaposi sarcoma primarily affects blood vessels. Cellular changes occur in the cells lining the blood vessel walls, causing them to become cancerous. Leakage from the blood vessel walls causes the characteristic purple, red or brown skin lesions often seen in patients with Kaposi sarcoma.

The primary cause of this cancer is a virus called human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8), or Kaposi sarcoma virus. Most people who have this virus never develop the disease. However, those who carry the virus and who suffer from a weakened immune system are more likely to develop the disease.

There are several different types of Kaposi sarcoma. The majority of Kaposi sarcoma cases occur in people infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The disease can afflict anyone with a weak or compromised immune system.

Kaposi sarcoma is rare in the United States. Only about six cases of Kaposi sarcoma are diagnosed each year per million people in this country.

It is seen most often in HIV–positive men. People who have undergone transplant surgery are also at high risk for the disease due to a combination of exposure to HHV8 and a weakened immune system.

One type of the disease is prevalent in certain regions of Africa where a high percentage of the population is infected with either the virus that causes Kaposi sarcoma or with HIV.

Kaposi Cancer Symptoms

A distinguishing feature of Kaposi sarcoma is lesions that appear on the skin or within mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose and throat. These lesions may also appear in lymph nodes or other organs.

Lesions are often purple to dark brown in color, blotchy in appearance and can occur in many different places at once within the body.

Types of Kaposi Sarcoma

There are several different types of Kaposi sarcoma:

Classic Kaposi Sarcoma

Classic Kaposi sarcoma is a rare disease that manifests as dark-colored lesions, often on the legs, ankles or feet. These lesions are slow-growing and don’t often cause any symptoms. Over time, however, these lesions can cause problems such as painful leg swelling or gastrointestinal bleeding.

More often, men of Italian or Eastern European descent are more susceptible to this form of the disease. People with classic Kaposi sarcoma often develop a secondary cancer, most often non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

African Kaposi Sarcoma

As its name suggests, African Kaposi sarcoma is found most frequently in young adult men who live near the equator in Africa. The disease follows a similar course to Classic Kaposi sarcoma and is characterized by violet to dark brown skin lesions. A more aggressive form can spread from the skin to other tissues or organs. In children, this disease may be fatal.

Immunosuppressive Therapy–Related Kaposi Sarcoma

Immunosuppressive therapy–related Kaposi sarcoma (also called transplant-related or acquired Kaposi sarcoma) may occur after a major organ transplant such as kidney, heart or liver. Patients who undergo these types of major surgeries often take drugs to suppress their immune system. Kaposi sarcoma may develop in these patients who have weakened immune systems. This form of the disease often affects the skin but can spread to other parts of the body including mucous membranes or other organs.

Epidemic Kaposi Sarcoma

Epidemic Kaposi sarcoma is a type of sarcoma only seen in homosexual or bisexual men infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Patients who go on to develop acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) have a weakened immune system and are much more susceptible to infections and cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma.

Symptoms of epidemic Kaposi sarcoma include lesions that form in different parts of the body including the skin, lining of the mouth, lymph nodes, stomach and intestines, lungs and lining of the chest, liver and spleen.

The disease is often first diagnosed by a dentist who may notice the presence of lesions in the mouth.

Over time the disease may spread to other parts of the body and cause more severe symptoms such as fever, weight loss and diarrhea. Life-threatening infections may occur, so it is important to closely monitor patients with this type of Kaposi.

Patients with epidemic Kaposi sarcoma infected with HIV may benefit from a combination of antiviral drugs called highly active antiretroviral therapy. This treatment may slow down the development of AIDS and AIDS–related Kaposi sarcoma.

Nonepidemic Kaposi Sarcoma

Nonepidemic Kaposi sarcoma most often develops in homosexual men who have no signs or symptoms of HIV infection. This is a much slower- growing cancer, extremely rare and lesions and related symptoms are treatable in most cases.

(Source: National Cancer Institute)


If you have received a Kaposi sarcoma diagnosis, or if you want a second opinion or just want to speak to a Kaposi sarcoma cancer specialist, we are here to help you. Call 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.

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