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Kaposi Sarcoma

Kaposi sarcoma (KS) is a rare type of cancer caused by a strain of the human herpes virus, known as the human herpes virus 8. The virus selectively attacks endothelial cells lining the walls of the blood vessels, causing tumors and bleeding into surrounding tissue.

A person with KS may have red or purple lesions on the skin that do not fade with time. The virus may also affect membranes lining the mouth, nose, gastrointestinal tract or lungs. In rare cases, the disease may spread to the liver or brain. 

Most people who harbor the virus will never get the cancer. The primary risk factor for developing KS is having a compromised immune system, either because of co-infection with the HIV virus or because of complications following an organ transplant. Older men of Mediterranean or Ashkenazi Jewish decent (who do not have any apparent loss of healthy immune function) may have a genetic vulnerability to the virus, as well.

A diagnosis of KS is based on examining tumor tissue samples under the microscope and documenting the presence of the virus.

At UC San Diego Health, specialists from Owen Clinic and Moores Cancer Center collaborate to deliver the best treatment for individuals with Kaposi sarcoma.


All types of KS are treated based on the extent of the cancer.

If there are only a couple lesions on the skin, the first course of action is to review any medications that you are taking that might be suppressing the immune system. Your doctor may then suggest stopping the immunosuppressing drug, lowering its dose or switching to an alternate drug.

Glucocorticoids (such as Cortisol, Cortisone and Prednisone), for example, should not be taken by individuals with KS.  

Patients with more extensive KS, affecting larger areas of the skin or other organs, may be treated with infusion therapy (chemotherapy). Infusion therapy for KS is usually a single-agent drug administered at a lower dose than for more typical cancers. Because of this, the side effects of infusion therapy are also diminished.


Because the treatment for KS does not kill the virus that causes the disease, complete remission from KS is rare. In this way, KS shares many similarities with warts.

Control of KS, however, is the norm, and for most people can be expected. 

In addition, as part of the National Cancer Institute's AIDS Malignancy Consortium, we frequently have clinical trials of new therapies for those who are not responding to standard options.

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