Is Kaposi’s Sarcoma an STD?

Medically Reviewed on 1/17/2023
Kaposi's Sarcoma
The first sign of Kaposi's sarcoma is a colored patch on the skin (skin lesion).

The cause of Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) is still unknown. The condition could be brought on by a sexually transmitted agent. KS manifests more quickly in HIV-positive people and is not typically detected in the blood of infected people.

What is Kaposi’s sarcoma?

Kaposi’s sarcoma develops in the lining of the blood and lymph vessels. Kaposi’s sarcoma tumors (lesions) commonly manifest as painless purplish spots on the legs, foot, or face. Lesions can develop in the mouth, lymph nodes, or the vaginal region. In severe cases of Kaposi's sarcoma, lesions may develop in the lungs and digestive system.

Human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) infection is the underlying cause of Kaposi's sarcoma. In healthy people, HHV-8 infections frequently go unnoticed because the immune system regulates them. In people with weakened immune systems, HHV-8 may result in Kaposi's sarcoma.

The risk of Kaposi's sarcoma is higher in those with HIV/AIDS. HIV impairs the immune system, allowing HHV-8-carrying cells to proliferate. The distinctive lesions develop by unidentified methods.

What are the types of Kaposi’s sarcoma?

There are four main types of Kaposi’s sarcoma, which are more common in men than in women and include:

  1. Classic Kaposi's sarcoma: Also called Mediterranean sarcoma because it mainly affects older men of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European descent. People with classic Kaposi’s sarcoma frequently develop skin lesions that gradually increase in size and number. Lesions may impact internal organs.
  2. Acquired Kaposi’s sarcoma: Also called transplant-related sarcoma. It develops in people with HHV-8, who are undergoing an organ or bone transplant and taking medicine to suppress their immune system. Acquired Kaposi’s sarcoma is unusual, affecting only 1 in 200 people receiving an organ or bone marrow transplant. Acquired Kaposi’s sarcoma frequently causes skin lesions.
  3. Epidemic Kaposi’s sarcoma: The most frequent type in the United States. There are six cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma for every million people with HIV/AIDS. A person with Kaposi’s sarcoma is prone to developing cancerous tumors all over their body.
  4. Endemic Kaposi’s sarcoma: Residents in Equatorial Africa are at risk of developing this type of sarcoma. It is similar to classic Kaposi’s sarcoma. The distinction is in the age at diagnosis; persons with endemic Kaposi’s sarcoma typically develop it considerably earlier than those with classic Kaposi’s sarcoma.

What are the symptoms of Kaposi’s sarcoma?

Skin lesions

A colored patch on the skin (skin lesion) is frequently the first sign of Kaposi's sarcoma. Skin lesions from Kaposi's sarcoma can be any color. They can be reddish purple, pink, brown, or brownish red. The skin lesions can appear anywhere, even inside the mouth. They tend to appear more frequently on the face, groin, and legs.

The lesions might appear as the following:

  • Patch, which is a flat spot on the skin
  • Plaque, which is a marginally elevated area
  • Nodule, which is a raised lump

The lesions may induce other symptoms depending on where they are in the body, such as:

  • Diarrhea or nausea (if there are lesions in the digestive tract)
  • Respiratory issues and a cough (if there are lesions in the lungs)
  • Either enlarged glands or arms and legs (if there are lesions in the lymph nodes)
  • Feeling extremely tired
  • The lesions occasionally bleed slowly; this could cause anemia (low red blood cell count)


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How to treat Kaposi’s sarcoma

Five types of standard treatment are used to treat Kaposi’s sarcoma:

  1. HAART: A combination of medications called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is used to reduce the damage that HIV infection causes to the immune system. HAART can successfully treat epidemic Kaposi’s sarcoma in many people. Other people may receive HAART and other conventional therapies to treat epidemic Kaposi’s sarcoma.
  2. Radiation therapy:
    • High-energy radiation, such as X-rays, or other forms of radiation, is used to kill or stop cancer cells' growth. Radiation therapy is available in two different forms:
      1. External radiation therapy: Uses a machine outside the body to administer radiation toward the area with cancer.
      2. Internal radiation therapy: Uses radioactive materials inserted into or close to the tumor using needles, seeds, wires, catheters, or other devices.
    • Depending on the type of cancer, the administration of radiation will be different. Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions are treated with specific forms of external radiation therapy.
      • Photon radiation therapy uses intense light to treat lesions.
      • Electron beam radiation therapy uses electrons (tiny, negatively charged particles).
  3. Surgery:
    • Small, surface lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma could be treated surgically using the following techniques:
      • Local excision: Cancer and a small quantity of healthy tissue surrounding it are removed from the skin.
      • Electrodesiccation and curettage: Using a curette (a sharp, spoon-shaped tool), the tumor is separated from the skin. After that, an electric current is applied to the area using a needle-shaped electrode. This stops the bleeding and eradicates any remaining cancer cells around the edge of the wound. To completely eradicate cancer, the procedure could be repeated one to three times.
      • Cryosurgery: Uses a device to freeze and remove aberrant tissue. Cryotherapy is another name for this procedure.
  4. Chemotherapy: Uses medications to kill cancer cells or prevent them from proliferating to stop the growth of cancer cells.
    • Systemic chemotherapy: Administered orally, intravenously, or intramuscularly.
    • Regional chemotherapy: Administered intrathecally to certain regions, such as the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a bodily cavity (for example, the abdomen) where the cancer is present.
    • Electrochemotherapy: Simultaneous administration of intravenous chemotherapy medications and electric pulses to the tumor using a probe. The pulses make an opening in the membrane around the tumor cell and allow the chemotherapy to enter.
  5. Immunotherapy: Activates the person’s immune system. The body's natural defenses against cancer are boosted, directed, or restored using substances produced by the body or in a lab. This form of treatment is biological therapy. Biologic treatments for Kaposi’s sarcoma include interferon alfa and interleukin-12.
Medically Reviewed on 1/17/2023
Image Source: Getty image

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