Diagnosis & treating Kaposi's sarcoma

Reviewed by: Annie Angle cancer nurse, Diploma Oncology Nursing, Royal Marsden, London

On this page: Diagnosing ι Staging ι Treatment ι Research ι Recovery ι Life after treatment


Diagnosing Kaposi sarcoma

Your doctor will examine you and refer you for tests to see if you have cancer. This can be a worrying and tiring time, especially if you need to have several tests. If the tests show you have or may have cancer, your doctor will refer you to a specialist, who will examine you and may ask you to have more tests.

Your GP or specialist may suspect you have Kaposi sarcoma just by looking at a lesion on your skin. However, a biopsy is the only way to confirm Kaposi sarcoma. This can be done in the outpatient department at your hospital. Your doctor will inject some local anaesthetic to numb the area then take a small piece of tissue from the lesion and send it to the laboratory for testing.

You may have a CT (computerised tomography) scan to see if the Kaposi sarcoma is anywhere else in your body.

You may have other tests, such as a bronchoscopy or endoscopy, if you have Kaposi sarcoma in your gut or lungs. Your doctor will explain the tests to you.

Staging Kaposi sarcoma

There's no standard staging system for KS like there is for most other types of cancer. However, for KS related to AIDS doctors have developed a system to use. You can read about this on the American Cancer Society website.

Treatment for Kaposi sarcoma

Many years of treating cancer patients and testing treatments in clinical trials has helped doctors know what's likely to work for a particular type and stage of cancer. Your doctor will advise you on the best treatment for your cancer. Treatment for Kaposi sarcoma will depend on several factors such as:

  • the type of Kaposi sarcoma you have
  • the number of lesions you have
  • how well your immune system is working
  • your age and general health.

Depending on the type of Kaposi sarcoma you have, treatment may be with chemotherapy, immunotherapy (interferon), antiviral drugs or radiotherapy.

AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma is treated with highly active antiretroviral therapy (known as HAART therapy). HAART usually gets rid of the lesions by decreasing the HIV in your body and helping improve your immunity. HAART usually takes a few months to work but generally works well and the lesions disappear.

Radiotherapy can also be used to help get rid of the lesions. It works by killing the cancer cells with high-energy rays. Chemotherapy can also be used if there are Kaposi sarcoma lesions inside the body and you're having symptoms such as fever and weight loss.

Your doctor will discuss your options with you. You can also call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 and speak with a cancer nurse.

Research

Early detection and better treatment have improved survival for people with Kaposi sarcoma. Research for Kaposi sarcoma is ongoing.

The most important advance in preventing AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma has been the development of drugs that help control HIV infection and AIDS. This has dramatically reduced the chances of getting Kaposi sarcoma for this group of people.

Kaposi sarcomas need new blood vessels to keep growing. Drugs that cut off the blood supply to tumours are being trialed. The oldest of these drugs, thalidomide (Thalomid), has had good results in early trials. However, it has difficult side effects. Newer drugs, with fewer side effects are being such trialced. For example, lenalidomide (Revlimid) and pomalidomide) Pomalyst).

Cancer Council Victoria supports participation in clinical trials. Clinical trials can test the effectiveness of promising new treatments or new ways of combining cancer treatments.
Always discuss treatment options with your doctor.

Recovery and follow-up care

Your doctors may want to examine you every 3 months for the first year after your treatment, every 6 months between the second and fifth years of your treatment, and once a year after that. They'll examine you and ask about any symptoms you've had, and will answer any questions you have. Your doctor may order other tests or scans if it's thought they're needed.

Life after treatment

After treatment for Kaposi sarcoma you're likely to face several changes in your life. For some people, changes may be short term. Other changes may be permanent and difficult to cope with. Most people find they need information and support about how to best deal with their situation. For more see the links below or contact Cancer Council on 13 11 20 and speak with a cancer nurse.

Updated: 04 Feb, 2015