What is Kaposi’s Sarcoma?Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS) is a rare form of cancer that can affect the skin and mouth. It causes masses to form on the skin, which are usually purple in colour. These masses may be singular, or they form throughout the body. Kaposi’s Sarcoma is primarily caused by human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8). This form of cancer is extremely rare, affecting only 6 in every million people. Many cases are also associated with HIV/AIDS. It can also be caused by organ transplantation, affect approximately 1 in 200 people who receive a new organ.
Causes and risk factors for Kaposi’s sarcoma:There are several common risk factors associated with Kaposi’s sarcoma. a risk factor is something that increases the chances of Kaposi’s sarcoma. However, it does not guarantee that it will occur. Common risk factors for Kaposi’s sarcoma include:
- Human Herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) – HHV-8 is the primary cause of Kaposi’s sarcoma. Although most people with the disease are unaffected, they are more likely to develop KS especially if their immune systems are weakened.
- HIV and AIDS – People who suffer from HIV and AIDS have a weaker immune system. This can increase the likelihood of Kaposi’s sarcoma occurring.
Types of Kaposi’s sarcoma:There are several different types of Kaposi’s sarcoma, each of which has a different cause. HIV-related Kaposi’s sarcoma: People who suffer from HIV or AIDS have a weakened immune system. This increases the risk of Kaposi’s sarcoma occurring, especially if they also suffer from HHV-8. Now that there is improved treatment for HIV, there are much fewer cases. Transplant-related Kaposi’s sarcoma: When people receive an organ transplant, they can develop KS. This happens because of the drugs they take post-transplant. These drugs weaken their immune system, increasing the risk of Kaposi’s sarcoma occurring. Classic Kaposi’s sarcoma: This form of Kaposi’s sarcoma is most commonly found on the legs and feet. It is more common in older men and occurs most frequently in people of Middle Eastern and Jewish descent.
Signs and Symptoms of Kaposi’s sarcoma:Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with Kaposi’s sarcoma:
- Small masses forming on the skin – The first symptom of Kaposi’s sarcoma is usually masses (or lesions) forming on the skin. These masses can increase in size over time. Several masses may even join together to form a larger tumour. The masses will usually be purple in colour, but may also appear as brown, red or pink lumps.
- Swelling in the arms and legs – Kaposi’s sarcoma can damage lymph vessels, causing a buildup of fluid in the arms and legs. As a result, the arms and legs can swell over time. This condition is called Lymphoedema.
- Loss of breath – When Lymphoedema occurs in the lungs, it can cause breathlessness. This may be accompanied by a cough that doesn’t go away over time.
- Nausea and vomiting – As KS develops, it may cause you to feel sick and vomit.
How is Kaposi’s sarcoma diagnosed?When you first see a doctor, they will often perform a physical examination. This will involve examining the masses forming on your skin and reviewing your previous medical history. Following a physical examination, you will usually be required to have a blood test to check for irregularities. If the doctor notices something irregular, they may recommend a biopsy. During a biopsy, a small sample is removed from one of the masses on your skin. The sample is then examined in a lab for signs of cancer. If your doctor suspects that KS is developing in the lungs, a bronchoscopy may be performed. This is when a small camera is inserted into the lungs to look for masses or lesions.
Treatment for Kaposi’s sarcoma:There are several available treatment options for Kaposi’s sarcoma. The treatment you receive will depend on several factors, including what type of KS you have and where it is located. Common treatment options for KS include: Radiation therapy: During radiation therapy, high-energy x-rays are used to target and destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy is painless but may cause side effects such as irritated skin. Radiation therapy is effective in reducing the size of lesions on the skin. If KS is also affecting organs inside the body, radiation therapy will help in reducing the symptoms. Radiation therapy is usually administered in short sessions. The number of sessions required depends on the size and number of masses on the skin. Small masses may only require one session, whereas other masses will require several. Radiation therapy can cause side effects. These include:
- Red, irritated skin around the targeted area(s) (similar to sunburn)
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Loss of hair around the targeted area
- Increased risk of infection
- Easier bruising and bleeding
- Loss of hair
- Nausea and vomiting
- Anaemia (low red blood cell count)