Kaposi sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that occurs due to a virus. It typically affects the skin and mouth and can cause oral symptoms, such as lesions inside the mouth.

Kaposi sarcoma is a form of cancer that causes skin lesions across the body. These lesions can affect the lining of the throat, nose, and mouth. Depending on how much the cancer has spread, survival rates for Kaposi sarcoma can be as high as 81%.

The human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8), also known as Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus, causes all forms of Kaposi sarcoma. Most people with HHV-8 do not develop this type of cancer. However, those with HHV-8 are more likely to develop the condition if they have a weakened immune system.

In this article, we will discuss the oral symptoms of Kaposi sarcoma, other possible symptoms, and when to contact a doctor.

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Oral symptoms often have links to Kaposi sarcoma. Lesions within the mouth can indicate the presence of this cancer.

These lesions may affect mucous membranes, which line the inside of different body parts. Lesions on the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat can occur with Kaposi sarcoma. Other oral symptoms of this cancer may include:

  • swallowing difficulties
  • swelling of the roof of the mouth
  • protruding of the lip due to lesions
  • tumors across the roof of the mouth

Oral lesions can also grow on the gums. In some cases, this can lead to tooth displacement. Individuals noticing these or other symptoms can speak with a doctor for a full evaluation.

Kaposi sarcoma can also cause lesions in other parts of the body. These may occur in the:

  • lungs
  • lymph nodes
  • gastrointestinal tract

Individuals with this cancer may also experience lesions across the face and legs. These typically appear a reddish blue, purple, brown, or black color.

Additional symptoms may include:

  • stomach discomfort
  • diarrhea
  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • painful swelling of the limbs
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • a cough

Kaposi sarcoma lesions may also begin to bleed. If they lose enough blood, this can lead to anemia. People with anemia may become lethargic or have trouble getting enough air.

HHV-8 causes Kaposi sarcoma. People may acquire this virus through sexual intercourse or from another individual’s saliva. Babies can also contract HHV-8 during childbirth.

However, having HHV-8 alone does not guarantee that someone will develop Kaposi sarcoma. Most individuals with this virus do not develop this form of cancer. People with HHV-8 and a weakened immune system are more likely to experience Kaposi sarcoma. This is particularly true for individuals with HIV.

Risk factors

Certain factors increase the risk of developing Kaposi sarcoma. These may include:

  • HIV or AIDS
  • a history of corticosteroid treatment
  • exposure to environmental factors
  • diabetes
  • organ transplantation
  • older age

People who use injectable drugs are also at a higher risk of this cancer. Evidence also suggests that males are also more likely to develop Kaposi sarcoma than females.

Although HIV increases the risk of Kaposi sarcoma, following prescribed antiretroviral therapies can mitigate this risk. A 2017 study found that individuals with HIV were 20 times more likely to develop Kaposi sarcoma if they did not adhere to antiretroviral treatment.

Individuals experiencing symptoms of Kaposi sarcoma need to speak with a doctor for medical examinations and testing. Painless, flat, and discolored patches on the skin or inside the mouth are the most common early symptom. Swelling in the limbs, difficulty breathing, nausea, coughing up blood, and chest pain can also indicate this form of cancer.

A doctor can conduct a physical exam to look for Kaposi sarcoma symptoms. If they suspect an individual may have this cancer, they can conduct further tests. These may include:

  • a biopsy of lesions or growths to test for cancer cells
  • chest X-rays to look for cancer cells in the lungs
  • an endoscopy
  • a bronchoscopy

After a doctor diagnoses Kaposi sarcoma, they can recommend a course of treatment. Treatment options range from freezing off small skin lesions to radiation therapy.

No single course of treatment is right for everyone. Contacting a doctor as the first signs of Kaposi sarcoma symptoms present can ensure treatment begins as quickly as possible. Treating this cancer before it spreads throughout the body increases the chance of making a full recovery.

Kaposi sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that can affect the skin, lymph nodes, and mucous membranes. As such, symptoms of this cancer often appear in the mouth and throat.

Lesions in the mouth and throat may indicate the presence of Kaposi sarcoma. People with oral symptoms may also have difficulty swallowing due to swelling in this area.

Although HHV-8 causes this cancer, most people with this virus will not develop Kaposi sarcoma. It typically occurs when a person with HHV-8 experiences a weakened immune system, such as from an HIV infection.

Discussing potential symptoms with a doctor is crucial for getting treatment started quickly. Early and effective treatment can maximize the likelihood of fully recovering from Kaposi sarcoma.