Radiotherapy for Kaposi's sarcoma
Radiotherapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells.
Radiotherapy can reduce signs of Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) on the skin. Small lesions may fade completely, and larger and deeper lesions may become smaller and flatter. Radiotherapy also helps improve symptoms such as swelling, pain and bleeding when KS is affecting organs inside the body.
The treatment is given as short sessions (fractions) in the hospital radiotherapy department. Each treatment takes 10-15 minutes. For small areas of KS, you may need only one treatment, but larger areas may need a number of sessions over a few weeks. The number of treatment sessions you will need depends on your individual situation and your doctor will discuss the treatment with you. They will also explain the side effects you’re likely to get. The side effects will depend on the part of the body that’s being treated.
Side effects of radiotherapy
Radiotherapy for KS can cause side effects. Serious side effects are uncommon because the amount of radiotherapy given is usually low.
Radiotherapy to the skin can cause soreness of the skin. People with pale skin may notice reddening, and people with darker skin may find that their skin becomes darker. You’ll be given instructions on looking after your skin during treatment.
After treatment, you’ll need to protect the skin in the treated area from strong sunshine for at least a year. Use a suncream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Wear close-weave clothing and use a wide-brimmed hat if your head and neck area has been treated. It’s important to remember that you can burn through clothing if you’re out in hot sun for a long time.
Tiredness is another possible side effect of radiotherapy and you may feel tired for some weeks after treatment is over. Make sure you get enough rest and don’t overdo things.
The side effects of your radiotherapy will gradually disappear once your treatment has finished. A small number of people develop delayed late effects of radiotherapy months or years later. Your doctor or specialist nurse will discuss any possible late effects with you.
Dr Vincent Khoo explains how radiotherapy works, and what to expect during treatment.