In English | En español
Questions About Cancer? 1-800-4-CANCER

Kaposi Sarcoma Treatment (PDQ®)

  • Last Modified: 06/26/2013

Page Options

  • Print This Page
  • Print This Document
  • View Entire Document
  • Email This Document

Epidemic Kaposi Sarcoma Treatment

Current Clinical Trials

Treatment may result:

  1. In a disappearance or reduction in size of specific skin lesions, thereby alleviating the discomfort associated with the chronic edema and ulcerations that often accompany multiple skin tumors seen on the lower extremities.

  2. In control of symptoms associated with mucosal or visceral lesions.

No data are available, however, to show that treatment improves survival.[1] In addition to antitumor treatment, essential components of an optimal Kaposi sarcoma (KS) treatment strategy include highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART), prophylaxis for opportunistic infections, and rapid recognition and treatment of intercurrent infections.

Most good-risk patients, as defined by the AIDS Clinical Trials Group, show tumor regression with HAART alone.[2] Poor-risk patients usually require a combination of HAART and chemotherapy with discontinuation of the chemotherapy after disappearance of the skin lesion.[2]

Local modalities

Small localized lesions of KS may be treated by electrodesiccation and curettage, cryotherapy, or by surgical excision. KS tumors are also generally very responsive to local radiation therapy, and excellent palliation has been obtained with doses at 20 Gy or slightly higher.[3-5] One report demonstrated a response rate higher than 90%, with a median time to progression of 21 months. Although no difference in response was noted with a variety of fractionation regimens, a single fraction of 8 Gy is indicated for cutaneous lesions and is associated with significantly fewer severe reactions.[6] Radiation therapy is generally reserved to treat localized areas of the skin and oral cavity. It is less often used to control pulmonary, gastrointestinal tract, or other sites of KS lesions. Localized KS lesions have also been effectively treated with intralesional injections of vinblastine.[7] Alitretinoin 0.1% gel provided local control in a randomized prospective multicenter trial.[8][Level of evidence: 1iiDiv]


In epidemic KS, the already profoundly depressed immunologic status of the host limits the therapeutic usefulness of systemic chemotherapy. Systemic chemotherapy studies in epidemic KS have used as single agents or in combinations doxorubicin, bleomycin, vinblastine, vincristine, etoposide, paclitaxel, and docetaxel.[9-13][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Randomized multicenter trials showed an improvement in response rate (45%–60% vs. 20%–25%) and a more favorable toxic effects profile for pegylated liposomal doxorubicin or liposomal daunorubicin, compared to the combination of doxorubicin, bleomycin, and vincristine or bleomycin and vincristine.[14-16][Level of evidence: 1iiDiv] During HAART, both pegylated liposomal doxorubicin and paclitaxel are active single agents with response rates close to 50%.[17][Level of evidence: 1iiDiv]

Biologic therapy

The interferon alphas have also been widely studied and show a 40% objective response rate in patients with epidemic KS.[18,19] In these reports, the responses differed significantly according to the prognostic factors of extent of disease, prior or coexistent opportunistic infections, prior treatment with chemotherapy, CD4 lymphocyte counts lower than 200 cells/mm³, the presence of circulating acid-labile interferon alpha, and an increase in beta-2-microglobulin. Several treatment studies have combined interferon alpha with other chemotherapeutic agents. Overall, these trials have shown no benefit with the interferon-chemotherapy combinations as compared to the single-agent activities.

Recombinant interferon alpha-2a and interferon alpha-2b were the first agents approved for the treatment of KS. Approval was based on single-agent studies performed in the 1980s before the advent of antiretroviral therapy. The early studies demonstrated improved efficacy at relatively high doses. High-dose monotherapy is rarely used today, and instead, interferon is given in combination with other anti-HIV drugs in doses of 4 to 18 million units. Neutropenia is dose limiting, and trials of doses of 1 to 10 million units combined with less myelosuppressive antiretrovirals are in progress. Response to interferon is slow, and the maximum effect is seen after 6 or more months. Interferon should probably not be used in the treatment of patients with rapidly progressive, symptomatic KS.

Bevacizumab, the humanized, antivascular, endothelial growth–factor monoclonal antibody, had a response rate in 5 of 16 patients who did not improve after the institution of HAART and chemotherapy.[20][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Interleukin-12 had a response rate of 71% (95% confidence interval, 48%–89%) among 24 evaluable patients in a phase I and phase II trial.[21][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Treatment options under clinical evaluation:

  • Patients with epidemic KS are appropriate candidates for clinical trials evaluating new drugs or biologicals.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

  1. Safai B: Kaposi's sarcoma and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. In: DeVita VT, Hellman S, Rosenberg S, eds.: AIDS: Etiology, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott-Raven Publishers, 1997, pp 295-318. 

  2. Krown SE: Highly active antiretroviral therapy in AIDS-associated Kaposi's sarcoma: implications for the design of therapeutic trials in patients with advanced, symptomatic Kaposi's sarcoma. J Clin Oncol 22 (3): 399-402, 2004.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  3. Cooper JS, Steinfeld AD, Lerch I: Intentions and outcomes in the radiotherapeutic management of epidemic Kaposi's sarcoma. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 20 (3): 419-22, 1991.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  4. Nobler MP, Leddy ME, Huh SH: The impact of palliative irradiation on the management of patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. J Clin Oncol 5 (1): 107-12, 1987.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  5. Singh NB, Lakier RH, Donde B: Hypofractionated radiation therapy in the treatment of epidemic Kaposi sarcoma--a prospective randomized trial. Radiother Oncol 88 (2): 211-6, 2008.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  6. Berson AM, Quivey JM, Harris JW, et al.: Radiation therapy for AIDS-related Kaposi's Sarcoma. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 19 (3): 569-75, 1990.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  7. Epstein JB, Lozada-Nur F, McLeod WA, et al.: Oral Kaposi's sarcoma in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Review of management and report of the efficacy of intralesional vinblastine. Cancer 64 (12): 2424-30, 1989.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  8. Bodsworth NJ, Bloch M, Bower M, et al.: Phase III vehicle-controlled, multi-centered study of topical alitretinoin gel 0.1% in cutaneous AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma. Am J Clin Dermatol 2 (2): 77-87, 2001.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  9. Evans SR, Krown SE, Testa MA, et al.: Phase II evaluation of low-dose oral etoposide for the treatment of relapsed or progressive AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma: an AIDS Clinical Trials Group clinical study. J Clin Oncol 20 (15): 3236-41, 2002.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  10. Saville MW, Lietzau J, Pluda JM, et al.: Treatment of HIV-associated Kaposi's sarcoma with paclitaxel. Lancet 346 (8966): 26-8, 1995.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  11. Lim ST, Tupule A, Espina BM, et al.: Weekly docetaxel is safe and effective in the treatment of advanced-stage acquired immunodeficiency syndrome-related Kaposi sarcoma. Cancer 103 (2): 417-21, 2005.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  12. Gill PS, Tulpule A, Espina BM, et al.: Paclitaxel is safe and effective in the treatment of advanced AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma. J Clin Oncol 17 (6): 1876-83, 1999.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  13. Di Lorenzo G, Konstantinopoulos PA, Pantanowitz L, et al.: Management of AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma. Lancet Oncol 8 (2): 167-76, 2007.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  14. Stewart S, Jablonowski H, Goebel FD, et al.: Randomized comparative trial of pegylated liposomal doxorubicin versus bleomycin and vincristine in the treatment of AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma. International Pegylated Liposomal Doxorubicin Study Group. J Clin Oncol 16 (2): 683-91, 1998.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  15. Northfelt DW, Dezube BJ, Thommes JA, et al.: Pegylated-liposomal doxorubicin versus doxorubicin, bleomycin, and vincristine in the treatment of AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma: results of a randomized phase III clinical trial. J Clin Oncol 16 (7): 2445-51, 1998.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  16. Gill PS, Wernz J, Scadden DT, et al.: Randomized phase III trial of liposomal daunorubicin versus doxorubicin, bleomycin, and vincristine in AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma. J Clin Oncol 14 (8): 2353-64, 1996.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  17. Cianfrocca M, Lee S, Von Roenn J, et al.: Randomized trial of paclitaxel versus pegylated liposomal doxorubicin for advanced human immunodeficiency virus-associated Kaposi sarcoma: evidence of symptom palliation from chemotherapy. Cancer 116 (16): 3969-77, 2010.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  18. Real FX, Oettgen HF, Krown SE: Kaposi's sarcoma and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome: treatment with high and low doses of recombinant leukocyte A interferon. J Clin Oncol 4 (4): 544-51, 1986.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  19. Groopman JE, Gottlieb MS, Goodman J, et al.: Recombinant alpha-2 interferon therapy for Kaposi's sarcoma associated with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Ann Intern Med 100 (5): 671-6, 1984.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  20. Uldrick TS, Wyvill KM, Kumar P, et al.: Phase II study of bevacizumab in patients with HIV-associated Kaposi's sarcoma receiving antiretroviral therapy. J Clin Oncol 30 (13): 1476-83, 2012.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  21. Little RF, Pluda JM, Wyvill KM, et al.: Activity of subcutaneous interleukin-12 in AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma. Blood 107 (12): 4650-7, 2006.  [PUBMED Abstract]