Kaposi sarcoma of the eyelid is a rare type of cancer that can grow from the cells lining the lymph vessels or blood vessels in the eyelid.

In most cases, Kaposi sarcoma tumors appear on the skin, such as on the face or leg, or the mucosa, such as the inside of the mouth. However, some people can develop tumors in their lymph nodes, lungs, or digestive tract.

This article details the symptoms, causes, and treatments of Kaposi sarcomas of the eyelid.

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A person with Kaposi sarcoma develops abnormal cells that form tumors. These tumors typically form discolored lesions on the skin.

While rare, Kaposi sarcoma may affect the conjunctiva (the mucosal lining of the eyelid) or the ocular adnexa, which includes the eyelids, the system of tear ducts, and the contents of the eye socket except for the eye and optic nerve.

Often, Kaposi sarcoma does not cause symptoms other than visible lesions. However, some people do show other signs of the disease, including:

  • local swelling
  • eye redness
  • bleeding lesions

There are four types of Kaposi sarcoma, AIDS-associated, classic, endemic, and transplant-related.

The main cause of Kaposi sarcomas is the human herpesvirus 8 (HHV8), also known as Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV).

This virus infects the endothelial cells that line blood and lymph vessels, causing abnormal cell growth. This growth typically causes lesions on the legs and face. However, lesions can form in the eyelids in some cases.

Not everyone with HHV8 develops Kaposi sarcoma. It is more common in people with a compromised immune system, such as those living with HIV and AIDS. However, it is rare for tumors to grow on a person’s eyelids.

Doctors may mistake Kaposi sarcoma lesions on the eyelid for another condition, such as:

Doctors diagnose Kaposi sarcoma using a combination of physical examinations, tests, and medical history assessments.

If a doctor suspects cancer after examining a lesion examination, they will order a biopsy to examine the lesion tissue more closely.

To confirm the diagnosis, they will combine this testing in the lab with immunohistochemistry, which involves using antibodies to check for antigens (substances capable of triggering an immune response) in the tissue sample.

Learn more about cancer biopsies here.

Treatment of Kaposi sarcoma will depend on the size, location, number of lesions, and whether the eye muscles are affected.

Treatment options include:

  • highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART)
  • radiation therapy
  • immunotherapy
  • cryotherapy (cold therapy)
  • chemotherapy
  • surgery

A 2019 review found that smaller forms of Kaposi sarcoma of the eye are generally responsive to treatment, especially HAART. However, researchers said that clearing large or resistant lesions might require other types of treatment.

New treatments

Researchers are also exploring new ways to treat Kaposi sarcoma. These include angiogenesis inhibitors, which block blood vessel growth within tumors, and immunomodulating agents, which boost the immune system and slow blood vessel growth.

Researchers are also looking into using existing cancer drugs such as bortezomib (Velcade), imatinib (Gleevec), and sorafenib (Nexavar) to treat Kaposi sarcoma.

Kaposi sarcoma is a type of cancer that can grow from the cells lining the lymph vessels or blood vessels, usually on the face or legs and rarely on the eyelids. Kaposi sarcoma is often the result of a KSHV infection and is most common in immunocompromised people.

Systemic treatments such as s HAART can significantly improve the outlook for a person with Kaposi sarcoma, while treatments for the lesions include surgery, radiation, cryotherapy, and chemotherapy.