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For further information, see CMDT Part 6-41: Kaposi Sarcoma

Key Features

Essentials of Diagnosis

  • Human herpes virus 8 (HHV-8) or Kaposi sarcoma–associated herpes virus (KSHV), is universally present in all forms of Kaposi sarcoma

  • It is a common infection in central Africa, is more common in Italy than in the United States, and is common in HIV-infected men who have sex with men and is rare in HIV-infected hemophiliacs

General Considerations

  • Occurs endemically in an often aggressive form in young Black men of equatorial Africa, but it is rare in American Blacks

  • The epidemiology of infection with HHV-8 or KSHV parallels the incidence of Kaposi sarcoma in various risk groups and geographic regions


  • The most common HIV-related malignancy

Clinical Findings

Symptoms and Signs

  • Red, purple, or dark plaques or nodules on cutaneous or mucosal surfaces

  • Marked edema may occur with few or no skin lesions

  • Commonly involves the gastrointestinal tract, but in asymptomatic patients these lesions are not sought or treated

  • Pulmonary Kaposi sarcoma

    • Can present with shortness of breath, cough, hemoptysis, or chest pain

    • May be asymptomatic, appearing only on chest radiograph

  • Chronic Kaposi sarcoma

    • Can develop in patients with HIV infection, high CD4 counts, and low viral loads

    • Usually resembles the endemic form, being indolent and localized

    • However, it can be clinically aggressive

Differential Diagnosis

  • Bacillary angiomatosis

  • Hemangioma

  • Vasculitis (palpable purpura)

  • Dermatofibroma

  • Pyogenic granuloma

  • Prurigo nodularis

  • Melanoma


Laboratory Tests

  • Diagnosis is based on appearance of skin lesions with confirmatory biopsy

Imaging Studies

  • Chest radiography

Diagnostic Procedures

  • Fecal occult blood testing in patients with gastrointestinal symptoms

  • Bronchoscopy in patients with pulmonary symptoms



  • Kaposi sarcoma in the elderly

    • Palliative local therapy with intralesional chemotherapy (vinblastine (0.1–0.5 mg/mL) or radiation is usually all that is required

  • In the setting of iatrogenic immunosuppression

    • The treatment is primarily reduction of doses of immunosuppressive medications

  • AIDS-associated Kaposi

    • The patient should first be given effective anti-HIV antiretrovirals because in most cases this treatment is associated with improvement (see HIV & AIDS)

  • Other therapeutic options include cryotherapy or intralesional vinblastine for cosmetically objectionable lesions

  • Systemic therapy is indicated in patients with skin disease that is symptomatic or asymptomatic but cosmetically unacceptable or in those with advanced cutaneous, oral visceral, or nodal disease

  • Antiretroviral therapy plus chemotherapy appears to be more effective than antiretroviral therapy alone

    • First-line systemic therapies include liposomal doxorubicin and paclitaxel

    • Other therapeutic options include

      • Pomalidomide

      • Etoposide

      • Gemcitabine

      • Imatinib

      • Interferon alpha-2b

      • Thalidomide

      • Vinorelbine

      • Bleomycin ...

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