Cancer Types: HIV/AIDS Related Cancers – Kaposi’s Sarcoma

Patients with AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) are generally more susceptible to developing certain types of cancer because. AIDS is a disease of the immune system caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). 

Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS)

An increasing incidence of Kaposi’s sarcoma has been associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS. Prior to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1990’s (Classic) Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS), vascular neoplasm and a cancerous tumor of the connective tissue, was a relatively rare disease usually seen only in older men of Jewish or Mediterranean descent or people who had organ transplants. In these patients, lesions most often appear on the lower body, particularly the legs, ankles, or soles of the feet. This disease is generally more common in men than women, and lesions may develop over a period of 10 to 15 years.  A form of Classic Kaposi’s sacroma, called Endemic or African Kaposi Sarcoma develops in people living in equatorial Africa. While Endemic Kaposi sarcoma is similar to Classic Kaposi sarcoma, people usually get the disease at a younger age. Endemic or African Kaposi Sarcoma is a particularly aggressive disease when it develops in children who have not yet reached puberty. 

In patients who had organ transplants and are taking drugs to suppress their immune system, a form of Kaposi sarcoma called Acquired (or immunosuppressive treatment-related or transplant-related) Kaposi sarcoma may develop as a result of treatment to lower the immune system.  In most cases, acquired Kaposi sarcoma only affects the skin, but the disease can spread to the mucous membranes or other organs.

HIV/AIDS related or Epidemic Kaposi Sarcoma is a known disease in people with HIV/AIDS.  It is the most common type of Kaposi sarcoma found most often in homosexual men with HIV/AIDS. Epidemic Kaposi sarcoma causes lesions to form in many different areas on the body. It may affect the lymph nodes and organs, such as the liver, spleen, lungs, and the digestive tract.

Disease presentation

Kaposi’s sarcoma arises in the cells under the skin or in the mucous membrane lining of the mouth, nose, and anus. The patches are usually red or purple and are made of cancer cells and blood cells.  The red and purple patches often cause no symptoms, but they may be painful. If the cancer spreads to the digestive tract or lungs, bleeding can result. Lung tumors can make breathing hard.

Non-AIDS related Kaposi’s sarcoma usually develops slowly. However, in HIV/AIDS patients the disease developes quickly.  Treatment depends on where the lesions are and how bad they are. While treatment for HIV itself can shrink the lesions, treating Epidemic Kaposi Sarcoma does not improve survival from HIV/AIDS itself.

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Page Last Update: November 12, 2012