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Can Kaposi Sarcoma Be Prevented?

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Kaposi sarcoma (KS) is caused by the Kaposi sarcoma--associated herpesvirus (KSHV). There are no vaccines at this time to protect people against KSHV. For now, preventing KS depends on reducing the chance of becoming infected with KSHV and reducing the chance that people who are infected with KSHV will develop KS.

Most cases of KS in the United States occur in people with HIV and AIDS. Taking measures to avoid becoming infected with HIV could prevent most cases of KS in this country.

  • Since HIV can be spread through sex, avoiding unprotected sex with people infected with HIV could help prevent these infections. Many people with HIV don’t know that they are infected, so many public health workers recommend using a condom during any sexual contact.
  • Another way to lower the risk of getting HIV is to take a pill every day that contains ant-viral drugs. This is called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends PrEP for people who are HIV negative and at very high risk for HIV. The CDC has more information about who should use PrEP.
  • HIV can also be spread through the use of contaminated (dirty) needles to inject recreational drugs. For people who inject drugs, the safest way to avoid HIV is to quit. However, some people are unable to quit on their own or get help in quitting, and they may not be able to stop using drugs right away. For these people, clean needles and injection supplies can help protect them. In some areas, there are programs to make sure that drug users can get clean needles and syringes.
  • HIV-infected mothers can pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. Treating the mothers and infants with anti-HIV drugs and avoiding breastfeeding can greatly reduce the risk of these infections.
  • In the past, blood product transfusions and organ transplants were responsible for some HIV infections. As a result of improved testing for HIV, there is now a very low risk of HIV infection from blood products or organ transplants in the United States.

For people who are infected with HIV and KSHV, taking the right medicines can reduce the chance of developing KS.

  • Testing for HIV can identify people infected with this virus. People with HIV should get treatment to help strengthen their immune system, which usually includes highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). HAART reduces the risk that people with HIV will develop KS (and AIDS). Treating infections that commonly occur in people with weakened immunity also reduces the likelihood of developing problems with KS.
  • HIV-infected people who take drugs to treat herpesvirus infections (such as ganciclovir or foscarnet) are less likely to develop KS because these drugs also work against KSHV (which is a type of herpesvirus). Still, these drugs can have serious side effects, so they are only taken to treat certain viral infections, not to prevent KS.

For people who are at risk of developing KS after an organ transplant (iatrogenic KS), using certain types of immune suppressive drugs, such as sirolimus or everolimus (mTOR inhibitors), may reduce the chances of KS while still helping prevent rejection of the new organ.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). 10/12/2017. Accessed at on 03/02/2018.

Curtiss P, Strazzulla LC, Friedman-Kien AE. An Update on Kaposi’s Sarcoma: Epidemiology, Pathogenesis and Treatment. Dermatology and Therapy. 2016;6(4):465-470. 

Tian R, Liao Q, and Chen X. Prevention and Treatment of KSHV-associated Diseases with Antiviral Drugs. Virologica Sinica. 2008; 23 (6):486-495. 


Last Revised: April 19, 2018

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