What Is Kaposi Sarcoma? | Skin Cancer

Kaposi sarcoma (KS) is a cancer that develops from the cells that line lymph or blood vessels. It usually appears as tumors on the skin or on mucosal surfaces such as inside the mouth, but tumors can also develop in other parts of the body (including the lymph nodes, lungs, or digestive tract). The abnormal cells of Kaposi sarcoma cause purplish, reddish blue, or dark brown/black skin lesions (maculesnodules, plaques) on the legs and the face. These lesions may look bad, but they usually cause no symptoms. However, when the lesions are in the lungs, liver, or digestive tract, they may cause serious problems like gastrointestinal bleeding or trouble breathing. 
Kaposi sarcoma is caused by infection with a virus called the 
Kaposi sarcoma associated herpesvirus (KSHV), also known as human herpesvirus 8 (HHV8). Kaposi sarcoma is classified into four types based upon the different populations in which it develops: classic (which presents in middle or old age), endemic (described in sub-Saharan indigenous Africans), iatrogenic (associated with immunosuppressive drug therapy) and AIDS-associated (epidemic KS). Options for treatment may include local therapyradiation therapychemotherapy and biologic therapy (immunotherapy). The main aim is to restore immunity.

Kaposi sarcoma used to be unheard of in the United States prior to the 1980’s, but with the emergence of HIV and AIDS, it has become much more commonly seen. Kaposi sarcoma is overgrowth of blood vessels underneath the skin, in a disorganized and carcinogenic way. It is oftentimes related to a type of herpes virus infection, specifically HHV-8.

Kaposi sarcoma is essentially unseen in anybody who does not have HIV or AIDS. The diagnosis is based on a biopsy. Oftentimes, clinically it presents as purple or red bumps on the face, on the shoulders and on the arms. They don’t itch or bleed. Anyone showing signs and symptoms of Kaposi sarcoma, such as purple or red bumps on the face, shoulders and arms should get a skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and if it is Kaposi sarcoma, they should be referred for an HIV test.