Prior to AIDS, Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) was considered to be a slow-growing disease found mainly in elderly Italian and Jewish men. However, for people who are HIV positive or who have AIDS, KS is a cancer that can develop quickly and can have serious consequences.
People who have HIV (are HIV-positive) are at higher risk of developing other infections and diseases. This happens because the HIV virus attacks cells in the immune system and stops them from protecting the body.
As HIV progresses, other viruses and bacteria that would normally be stopped by the immune system may be able to cause serious damage. Kaposi’s sarcoma is a condition that can be very dangerous for people who are HIV positive.
Cancer is a condition that results when abnormal cells grow out of control. Kaposi’s sarcoma is a type of cancer that develops in cells in the lymph or blood vessels.
It can cause red or purple splotches or tumors of abnormal cells to grow. These splotches, which are known as lesions, are made up of cancer cells and blood cells. They often appear on the skin without causing pain or other symptoms.
In some cases, lesions form around the eyes, groin area, and in the legs and cause painful swelling. They can also occur in the lungs, liver, or digestive tract where they cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications. Lesions in the lung may bleed and cause bloody sputum and shortness of breath.
In people who have HIV or AIDS, KS is the result of an interaction between the HIV virus and the human herpesvirus (HHV-8). The risk of developing KS can be monitored by checking the CD4 count, which is a measure of immune system cells in the body. As the HIV virus damages CD4 cells in the immune system, the CD4 count goes down and the risk of KS goes up.
In someone who is HIV-positive but has not yet been diagnosed with AIDS, having KS is considered to be an “AIDS defining” condition. This means that when someone with HIV develops Kaposi’s sarcoma, his immune system has become sufficiently weakened that he officially has AIDS.
Treatment for KS depends on where the lesions are located and how serious they are.