Kaposi Sarcoma: Antiretroviral Therapy

What is antiretroviral therapy?

Antiretroviral therapy is the use of medicines to treat infections with certain types of viruses, called retroviruses. This treatment is especially important if you are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. Treatment with highly-active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) can often keep the infection under control. This can help keep your immune system strong.

When might antiretroviral therapy be used in people with Kaposi sarcoma?

If you are HIV-positive and have AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma (KS), it is very important to treat the HIV infection to help keep it under control. KS is linked to infection with another virus called human herpes virus 8 (HHV-8), also known as the Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV). Having a weakened immune system as a result of HIV infection can allow HHV-8 to grow, which can lead to the KS progressing. But keeping the HIV infection under control (and the immune system strong) can help keep the HHV-8 infection under control as well. This can often cause KS lesions to shrink without any other treatments. If the KS is more advanced, antiretroviral treatment may be used along with chemotherapy. 

How is antiretroviral therapy given?

HAART is typically given as a combination of a few medicines. These are taken daily (or more than once a day) as pills. Many different combinations of medicines might be used.

Working with your healthcare provider

Antiretroviral medicines can sometimes have side effects. They might also interact with any other medicines you are taking. It's important to know which medicines you're taking, and to make sure your doctors know all of the medicines you're taking. Write your medicines down, and ask your healthcare team how they work and what side effects they might have.

Talk with your healthcare providers about what signs to look for and when to call them. Make sure you know what number to call with questions. Is there a different number for evenings and weekends?

It may be helpful to keep a diary of your side effects. A written list will make it easier for you to remember your questions when you go to your appointments. It will also make it easier for you to work with your healthcare team to make a plan to manage your side effects.