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Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) is a type of cancer that usually affects the skin and mouth. KS can also affect organs inside the body such as the lungs, liver, stomach, bowel and lymph nodes (glands). It can appear in several parts of the body at the same time.
The main cause of KS is a virus called human herpes virus 8 (HHV8). Most people who have this virus never get KS. But people with a weakened immune system who have the virus are more likely to develop KS.
Our immune system| is made up of tissues and organs that work together to protect us against infections. Different conditions can cause a weakened immune system. The one most commonly linked with KS is HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS.
There are four main types of KS and they’re all more common in men than in women.
Epidemic KS is associated with HIV infection. It’s the most common of the four types. If HIV develops and the immune system becomes damaged, people who have human herpes virus 8 are more likely to get KS. KS is now less common in the UK because HIV is usually well controlled with treatment.
Classic KS is rare. Like many other cancers it develops without a weakened immune system. It’s more common in older men of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Jewish descent.
This type of KS is normally only found in the skin, particularly on the lower legs and feet. It’s a slow-growing cancer and people with early classic KS may not need treatment.
Endemic KS is found in parts of Africa where human herpes virus 8 is more common. It develops more quickly than classic KS and can affect men, women and children of all ages, although it’s more common in men.
Rarely, people who have a weakened or damaged immune system after an organ transplant develop acquired KS. This is because they need to takes drugs that suppress their immune system (immunosupressants) to reduce the risk of rejecting the donated organ.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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