Sarcoma is a malignant tumor that grows on connective tissues. Kaposi’s sarcoma, also known as KS is caused by the Human Herpes Virus 8. KS begins when cancerous cells and abnormally forming blood vessels create solid tumors or lesions. Before the early 1980s this disease was extremely rare. At that time patients were mainly older men of Mediterranean or African descent. Patients with severely weakened immune systems are often patients of this cancer. Transplant patients who take immunosuppressant drugs are particularly susceptible to KS. The AIDS epidemic made this disease more common. Originally, this disease was one of the first symptoms of AIDS. Since the arrival of AIDS, this disease has mutated into a more aggressive form.
Kaposi’s sarcoma presents as patches or blotches that can be red, purple, black or brown. The lesions can be painless or painful and enlarged. The lesions usually occur on the skin or on mucus membranes. The lesions become unsafe when their swelling interrupts circulation, swallowing or breathing. Lesions can also be found on internal organs such as the lungs or in the gastrointestinal system. Internal lesions are most commonly scene in the aggressive, epidemic version of KS and can be responsible for fatal bleeding.
KS lesions have a very distinct presentation and sometimes physical examination is all that is needed for a diagnosis. The best approach however is to biopsy a lesion. The biopsy specimen is examined by a pathologist for the ‘spindle cells’. The presence of a protein, known as LANA can also confirm diagnosis.
Kaposi’s sarcoma is not curable, but it can be effectively managed for many years. Management is the primary aim of treatment. If KS is associated with immune system suppression due to AIDS, highly active antiretroviral therapy is started. This therapy is referred to as HAART. In this case forty percent of lesions in the patients will shrink. In some cases the lesions may return. Patients who have a limited number of local lesions can have each lesion treated with radiation therapy or freezing (cryotherapy). This therapy will kill the cancerous cells and lesion and the body will naturally grow back healthy skin. Surgery is not usually recommended for KS, because the possibility of not getting all the cancerous cells is strong.
When Kaposi’s syndrome is internal or systemic, therapy such as interferon alpha, liposomal antrhacyclines and paclitaxel are used.
In 1872 a Hungarian dermatologist, Mortiz Kaposi described the symptoms of what is known today as Kaposi’s sarcoma. When the AIDS epidemic began, KS was the most common symptom of AIDS. In 1994 scientists, Yuan, Chang, Patrick S. Moore and Ethel Cesarman discovered the virus known as Kaposi’s sarcoma associated herpes virus, KSHV. This virus is the eighth human herpes virus to be identified. KSHV is related to the Epstein-Barr virus, a common herpes virus that can also produce cancer.
Infection with KSHV does not necessarily mean that a patient will develop Kaposi’s sarcoma. It is not obvious what factors lead to the development of Kaposi’s sarcoma in infected patients. Men are more likely to develop KS, in Africa however, female AIDS patients are more likely to develop Kaposi’s sarcoma.
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