Kaposi Sarcoma: Surgery and Other Local Treatments

By Vann, Madeline 
March 21, 2017

Kaposi Sarcoma: Surgery and Other Local Treatments

Surgery and other types of local treatment can sometimes be used to remove or destroy Kaposi sarcoma (KS) lesions. Local treatments are those that treat only a specific area of the body, as opposed to treating the whole body.

When might surgery or other local treatments be used for Kaposi sarcoma?

Local treatments are sometimes used to treat 1 or more KS lesions that are grouped in a small area of the body. The goal of this treatment is to remove or destroy the lesions to help a person look better, or to ease symptoms caused by the lesions. A downside to local treatments is that they can't stop new KS lesions from forming in other parts of the body.

Types of local treatments for Kaposi sarcoma

Several types of local treatments can be used for KS lesions. 


Removing the lesions with surgery is sometimes an option. There are 2 main ways to remove KS lesions:

  • Simple excision. In this approach, the skin is numbed and the lesion (and a small area of skin around it) is removed with a surgical knife.

  • Curettage and electrodesiccation. In this procedure, the skin is numbed and the lesion is removed with a sharp, spoon-shaped tool called a curette. An electric current is then applied to the area to stop bleeding and destroy any remaining cancer cells.  

Cryosurgery (cryotherapy)

For this treatment, very cold liquid nitrogen is applied to the lesion to freeze and kill the cancer cells. This approach is most useful for small lesions on the face. It can be repeated if needed.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

In this treatment, a liquid medicine is applied directly to the lesion. It collects in the cancer cells and makes them more sensitive to certain kinds of light. The cells are given time to absorb the medicine. Then a special light is applied to the cells, which kills them. This treatment can make the area very sensitive to sunlight for a time. So it is very important to keep the area covered up. 

Topical retinoid therapy

For this treatment, a type of medicine called a retinoid, which is related to vitamin A, is applied directly to the lesion. It can shrink the lesion over time. The medicine used most often is alitretinoin. A drawback of this treatment is that it can cause the area to become red and swollen, which limits its use.

Intralesional chemotherapy

Some KS lesions can be treated by injecting them with a small amount of chemotherapy medicine (usually vinblastine). This can cause the lesion to shrink over time. This treatment might need to be repeated. Side effects can include swelling and blistering.

Radiation therapy

High-energy X-rays or other types of radiation can be used to treat some KS lesions, especially if they are larger and unlikely to be helped by other local treatments. This type of treatment is discussed in more detail on a separate page.

Talk to your healthcare team

If you have any questions about your treatment, be sure to talk to your healthcare team. They can help you know what to expect before, during, and after your procedure.


March 21, 2017


AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma: Staging and treatment. UpToiDate.

Reviewed By:  

Alteri, Rick, MD,Levin, Mark, MD