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Kaposi Sarcoma

(Kaposi's Sarcoma)

by Gregory L. Wells, MD

Kaposi sarcoma is a cancer that causes multiple flat pink, red, or purple patches or bumps on the skin. It is caused by herpesvirus type 8.

  • One or a few spots may appear on the toes or a leg, or spots may appear anywhere on the body or in the mouth or genital areas, then spread to other areas, including internal organs.

  • Although this cancer can often be identified by sight, doctors usually also do a biopsy.

  • Spots may be removed or treated with radiation therapy, but if the cancer is aggressive, treatment includes chemotherapy drugs or interferon alfa.

There are four types of Kaposi sarcoma. The types occur in several distinct groups of people and act differently in each group. It occurs in the following:

  • Classic: Affects older men, usually of Italian, Eastern European, or Jewish heritage

  • Endemic (occurs regularly in a certain place): Affects children and young adults from certain parts of Africa

  • Immunosuppressive: Affects people whose immune system is weakened due to immunosuppressants given after organ transplantation

  • AIDS-associated: Affects people with AIDS (which accounts for most of the cases in the United States)

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