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

At the OSUCCC – James, our Kaposi sarcoma subspecialists 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.

Not only is the OSUCCC – James is also among the top five sarcoma programs in the country, it is also the only central Ohio provider for patients with recurrent sarcoma. 

And by offering access to some of 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 cancer that can occur in adults and children. Soft tissues are any tissues that surround or support other structures within the body, including connective tissue such as nerves, blood vessels or tendons.

Kaposi sarcoma primarily affects blood vessels. Certain changes in the cells that line the blood vessel walls cause them to become cancerous. Leakage from the blood vessel walls causes the purple, red or brown skin lesions often seen in patients with Kaposi sarcoma.

The primary cause of this cancer is a virus called human herpes virus-8 (HHV-8), or Kaposi sarcoma virus. Most people who have this virus never develop the disease, but  those who carry the virus and who suffer from a weakened immune system are at higher risk for developing Kaposi sarcoma.

Although there are several different types of Kaposi sarcoma, it is rare in the United States and accounts for less than one percent of all adult cancers.

Kaposi sarcoma is also seen most often in HIV–positive men. Additionally, people who have had transplant surgery are at higher risk for the disease because of the combination of exposure to HHV8 and having a weakened immune system.

Kaposi Sarcoma Diagram

Kaposi Cancer Symptoms

Kaposi sarcoma patients often have purplish, red or brown marks (lesions) on the skin or within mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose and throat. These lesions may also appear in lymph nodes or other organs.

Types of Kaposi Sarcoma

There are several different types of Kaposi sarcoma:

Classic Kaposi Sarcoma

Classic Kaposi sarcoma patients develop 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, they can cause problems such as painful leg swelling or gastrointestinal bleeding.

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

African Kaposi Sarcoma

This disease is found most frequently in young adult men who live near the equator in Africa. It 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

Also called transplant-related or acquired Kaposi sarcoma, this form of sarcoma can occur after a major organ transplant such as kidney, heart or liver transplant. Patients who undergo these types of major surgeries often take drugs to suppress their immune system, and Kaposi sarcoma may develop because of their 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 seen only 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, mouth lining, 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.

Non-epidemic Kaposi Sarcoma

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

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

If you’ve been diagnosed with Kaposi sarcoma, would like a second opinion or would like to speak with a sarcoma specialist, please call The James Line at 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.

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The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute

460 West 10th Avenue

Columbus, Ohio 43210

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