What Are the 4 Types of Kaposi Sarcoma? Causes & Symptoms

Medically Reviewed on 5/10/2022
What Are the 4 Types of Kaposi Sarcoma
Kaposi sarcoma usually grows below the surface of your skin and can spread to your lymph nodes, lungs, and digestive tract

Kaposi sarcoma (KS) is a type of cancer in which tumors form in the lining of your blood and lymph vessels. It usually grows below the surface of your skin and affects your mouth, nose, eyes, and anus and can spread to your lymph nodes, lungs, and digestive tract. 

The four types of Kaposi sarcoma include epidemic, classic, endemic, and immunosuppressive KS.

4 types of Kaposi sarcoma

  1. Epidemic (AIDS-associated): AIDS-associated Kaposi sarcoma is the most common type of KS in the United States. This type of KS affects people infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV infection destroys the immune system and allows cells harboring HHV-8 to multiply. KS is considered an AIDS-defining illness.
  2. Classic (Mediterranean): This type of KS mainly affects older people of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, or Eastern European descent and is more common in men than in women. Lesions are often found more on the legs, ankles, or the soles of the feet. Lesions also progress slowly, and new lesions do not develop as often.
  3. Endemic (African): This type of KS occurs in people from equatorial Africa. Factors that may contribute to the development of the disease include those that weaken the immune system, such as malnutrition and malaria.
  4. Immunosuppressive (transplant-related): This type of KS affects recipients of organ transplants who take drugs that weaken their immune system. The disease tends to be milder and easier to control in this population than it is in people with AIDS.

What causes Kaposi sarcoma?

Kaposi sarcoma is caused by a virus called human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8). 

Healthy people can carry the virus without any problems because their immune system keeps it under control. However, in people with weakened immune systems, HHV-8 has the potential to trigger Kaposi sarcoma. 

HHV-8 can be spread through saliva, such as during sexual contact or in interactions between a mother and child.

Who is at the risk for Kaposi sarcoma?

Those who are at greater risk of Kaposi sarcoma include men, people who are infected with HIV, and those with compromised immunity.

Kaposi sarcoma is more common in men and is 8 times more common in men than in women. 

Kaposi sarcoma is an AIDS marker, meaning that when KS affects someone who has an HIV infection, they officially have aids and are not just HIV-positive.

What are the symptoms of Kaposi sarcoma?

The most visible signs of Kaposi sarcoma are purple, red, or brown lesions beneath the skin that can appear flat or raised. New lesions may show up every week. Common locations include the feet, legs, and face. Lesions may also appear on the eyes and under the eyelids.

Depending on the location of the lesions, they can cause other symptoms:


Skin Cancer Symptoms, Types, Images See Slideshow

How is Kaposi sarcoma treated?

Treatment of Kaposi sarcoma depends on the number, size, and location of lesions, as well as the health of the immune system. Treatment options include:

  • Antiretroviral therapy: May clear up skin lesions and make skin look better
  • Radiation therapy: Kills the cancer cells or stops their growth
  • Chemotherapy: May be used if the cancer has spread to different parts of the body and includes drugs such as:
    • Doxorubicin
    • Paclitaxel
    • Vinblastine
  • Biologic therapy: Uses drugs to boost the immune system
Medically Reviewed on 5/10/2022
Image Source: iStock Image

Katz J. Kaposi Sarcoma. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/279734-overview

National Institutes of Health. Kaposi Sarcoma Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. https://www.cancer.gov/types/soft-tissue-sarcoma/patient/kaposi-treatment-pdq