About Kaposi’s and skin lesions

If you have skin lesions caused by Kaposi’s sarcoma, you may be offered treatment directly to the lesions. This is called local treatment.

Local treatments include:

  • a low dose of radiotherapy
  • an injection of a small amount of chemotherapy into the lesion (intralesional chemotherapy)
  • surgery.

Local treatments can help you look and feel better, but it will not stop new lesions developing. You may need other treatments for Kaposi’s if:

  • there are lots of lesions on large areas of skin
  • Kaposi’s affects organs inside the body.

Radiotherapy for Kaposis skin lesions

Radiotherapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells.

Radiotherapy may make small lesions fade completely. Larger and deeper lesions may become smaller and flatter. The treatment is given as short sessions (fractions) in the hospital radiotherapy department.

Each treatment takes 10 to 15 minutes. For small areas of Kaposi’s, you may only need one session of treatment. For bigger areas, you may need a number of sessions over a few weeks. The number of treatment sessions you need depends on your situation. Your doctor will discuss the treatment with you.

Side effects of radiotherapy

Radiotherapy for Kaposi’s can cause side effects. Serious side effects are uncommon, because the dose of radiotherapy given is usually low.

Your doctor or specialist nurse will explain the side effects you are likely to get. This depends on the area of the body that is being treated.

Skin changes

Radiotherapy to the skin can cause the skin to become sore. People with pale skin may notice it reddening. People with darker skin may find their skin becomes darker. You will be given instructions on looking after your skin during treatment.

After treatment, you will need to protect the skin in the treated area from the sun:

  • Use a sun cream with a high sun-protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
  • Wear close-weave clothing.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat if your head and neck area has been treated.
  • Remember you can burn through clothing if you are out in hot sun for a long time.

Tiredness

You may feel tired for some weeks after treatment finishes. Get plenty of rest, but balance this with some gentle exercise, such as short walks. This will give you more energy and help keep your muscles working.

Late effects of radiotherapy

The side effects of radiotherapy will slowly disappear after your treatment finishes. A small number of people develop late effects of radiotherapy months or years later. Your doctor or specialist nurse will discuss any possible late effects with you.

Chemotherapy injected into Kaposi’s lesions

For small Kaposi’s lesions that only affect the skin, chemotherapy can be injected directly into the lesions. This is called intralesional chemotherapy. It may be used:

  • instead of radiotherapy if radiotherapy could affect your appearance – for example, if the lesion is on your face and radiotherapy may cause the skin to darken
  • to treat tumours inside the mouth.

The most common chemotherapy drug used is vinblastine (Velbe®). It works best on smaller lesions. Intralesional chemotherapy can shrink skin lesions and make them lighter in colour. In some people, lesions may disappear almost completely.

Side effects of intralesional chemotherapy include swelling, pain and blistering in the area that was injected.