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Kaposi Sarcoma Treatment (PDQ®)

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Classic Kaposi Sarcoma Treatment

Classic Kaposi sarcoma (KS) usually is limited to the skin and has an indolent course. Patients with this tumor are predisposed to the development of a second primary malignancy, and the treating physician should consider this factor when arranging a schedule of follow-up treatment for the patient.

Equivalent standard treatment options:

Solitary lesions:

  1. Radiation therapy: For solitary lesions or lesions of limited extent, modest doses of radiation applied to the lesions with a limited margin provide excellent control of disease in the treated area. Usually, superficial radiation beams such as electron beams are used. Some authors believe disease recurrence in adjacent, untreated skin is common if only involved-field radiation therapy is used and claim better cure rates when extended-field radiation therapy is used.[1,2]
    • Low-voltage (100 kv) photon radiation: 8 Gy to 10 Gy given as a single dose or 15 Gy to 20 Gy given over 1 week because solitary lesions control nearly 100% of local disease, but recurrence in adjacent areas is common.
    • Electron-beam radiation therapy (EBRT): 4 Gy given once weekly for 6 to 8 consecutive weeks with a 4-MeV to 6-MeV electron beam. Ports should include the entire skin surface 15 cm above the lesion.
  2. Surgical excision may be of benefit in some patients with small superficial lesions, but local recurrence is likely to be a problem. However, over the years, multiple small excisions can be performed to achieve good disease control.

Widespread skin disease:

  1. Radiation therapy: Modest doses are effective in controlling disease. The type of radiation (i.e., photon vs. electron) and fields used must be tailored to suit the distribution of disease in the individual patient.[2]
    • Extended-field EBRT.
    • For disease limited to areas distal to the knee, subtotal-skin EBRT directed to skin below the umbilicus.
    • For disease that extends above the knee, total-skin EBRT.

    EBRT used in this manner gave long-term results that were superior to those obtained with radiation therapy administered to successive individual lesions as they appeared.[2]

    • EBRT: 4 Gy given once weekly for 6 to 8 consecutive weeks, and subtotal- or total-skin radiation therapy given for extensive disease.
  2. Chemotherapy: Because classic KS is such a rare disease in the United States and is usually treated initially with radiation therapy, few patients have been treated with chemotherapy, and no randomized prospective trials have compared one agent to another. Several authors have used single-agent vinblastine given as a weekly dose of approximately 0.1 mg/kg.[3-6] Almost all of the patients had good to excellent response. In most cases, patients required prolonged courses of therapy, for several years, to maintain a partial response. Doses of vinblastine were titrated in individual patients to maintain a white blood count of more than 3,000 leukocytes. Follow-up after completion of therapy was not presented. In a multicenter trial of 55 patients who were treated over a decade, a 71% overall response rate was seen using pegylated liposomal doxorubicin.[7][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] In addition to the positive response rates of pegylated liposomal doxorubicin and the vinca alkaloids, response rates showing a greater than 50% decrease in lesions have also been reported in small, uncontrolled series for etoposide, taxanes, gemcitabine, and interferon alfa.[8][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

    One patient was treated repeatedly with intralesional injections of 0.25 to 0.50 mg of vincristine, which resulted in complete disappearance of the treated lesion.[9] Multiple courses of therapy were required because of the recurrence of disease in untreated areas.

Lymph node and gastrointestinal tract involvement:

  1. Chemotherapy: Several patients who had widespread skin disease and were treated with chemotherapy also had lymph node and gastrointestinal tract involvement. The disease in these sites also responded to vinblastine. Trials are required to define therapy. One such trial, MSKCC-04055, has been completed.
  2. Local radiation therapy may be added to chemotherapy if individual lesions require urgent therapy.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with classic 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. Hamilton CR, Cummings BJ, Harwood AR: Radiotherapy of Kaposi's sarcoma. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 12 (11): 1931-5, 1986. [PUBMED Abstract]
  2. Nisce LZ, Safai B, Poussin-Rosillo H: Once weekly total and subtotal skin electron beam therapy for Kaposi's sarcoma. Cancer 47 (4): 640-4, 1981. [PUBMED Abstract]
  3. Solan AJ, Greenwald ES, Silvay O: Long-term complete remissions of Kaposi's sarcoma with vinblastine therapy. Cancer 47 (4): 637-9, 1981. [PUBMED Abstract]
  4. Tucker SB, Winkelmann RK: Treatment of Kaposi sarcoma with vinblastine. Arch Dermatol 112 (7): 958-61, 1976. [PUBMED Abstract]
  5. Scott WP, Voight JA: Kaposi's sarcoma. Management with vincaleucoblastine. Cancer 19 (4): 557-64, 1966. [PUBMED Abstract]
  6. Klein E, Schwartz RA, Laor Y, et al.: Treatment of Kaposi's sarcoma with vinblastine. Cancer 45 (3): 427-31, 1980. [PUBMED Abstract]
  7. Di Lorenzo G, Kreuter A, Di Trolio R, et al.: Activity and safety of pegylated liposomal doxorubicin as first-line therapy in the treatment of non-visceral classic Kaposi's sarcoma: a multicenter study. J Invest Dermatol 128 (6): 1578-80, 2008. [PUBMED Abstract]
  8. Régnier-Rosencher E, Guillot B, Dupin N: Treatments for classic Kaposi sarcoma: a systematic review of the literature. J Am Acad Dermatol 68 (2): 313-31, 2013. [PUBMED Abstract]
  9. Odom RB, Goette DK: Treatment of cutaneous Kaposi's sarcoma with intralesional vincristine. Arch Dermatol 114 (11): 1693-4, 1978. [PUBMED Abstract]
  • Updated: October 17, 2014