What’s New in Kaposi Sarcoma Research and Treatment?

A great deal of research is being done to find more effective ways to prevent and treat Kaposi sarcoma (KS).


Probably the most important advance in the prevention of AIDS-related KS has been the development of drugs that help control HIV infection and AIDS. This has reduced the chance of getting KS.

Testing for Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV), the virus that causes KS, could help manage patients at risk for KS, including those infected with HIV or those who will be having an organ transplant and will be taking drugs to suppress their immune system.

Several drugs used to treat related herpesviruses such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) can also help treat KSHV infections. These drugs stop the KSHV-infected cells from making more of the virus. The drugs seem to lower the risk of developing KS in patients who are at high risk, although they haven’t been found to help treat KS once it has developed.


Researchers are studying new and different ways to treat KS.

Imiquimod (Aldara) is a topical drug that modulates the immune system. It can be applied to the skin to treat certain kinds of warts. There have been reports of this drug helping shrink KS skin lesions, as well.

KS lesions depend on the formation of new blood vessels for their growth. Drugs called angiogenesis inhibitors, which block the growth of blood vessels within tumors, may help treat these lesions. For example, the drug bevacizumab (Avastin®) has been shown to cause some KS lesions to shrink or stop growing in a small study. Further studies of this drug and other angiogenesis inhibitors are now being done.

Boosting the immune system is another promising approach to treating KS. Interferon alfa was used for many years to help treat KS, although its use is limited today because of its side effects. Studies looking at similar drugs, such as interleukin-12 (IL-12), have shown good results in early studies.

Drugs called immunomodulating agents both boost the immune system and affect blood vessel growth, so these drugs may be helpful against KS. The oldest of these drugs, thalidomide (Thalomid®), has been shown to help shrink some KS lesions in early studies, but this drug can have side effects that make it hard to take. Related drugs, such as lenalidomide (Revlimid®) and pomalidomide (Pomalyst®), which tend to have fewer side effects, are now being studied.

Some other drugs that are already used to treat other cancers are also being studied for use against KS, including bortezomib (Velcade®), imatinib (Gleevec®), and sorafenib (Nexavar®).

Of course, research into HIV vaccines and antiretroviral drugs also may have a great impact on AIDS-related KS. Maraviroc (Selzentry®) is an antiretroviral drug currently being studied for its effect on KS.

KSHV also offers a new target for KS drugs and biologic therapy. Clinical trials are testing whether antiviral drugs that target KSHV may be used for KS.

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The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: August 8, 2014 Last Revised: February 9, 2016

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.