Kaposi Sarcoma: Immunotherapy

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy (sometimes called biologic therapy) is a type of treatment that boosts your body’s own immune system to help it recognize and attack cancer cells. It does this using manmade versions of substances normally found in the body that boost the immune system.

When might immunotherapy be used to treat Kaposi sarcoma?

Immunotherapy is not a common treatment for Kaposi sarcoma (KS), but it might be used if other treatments are not working. It is most likely to be helpful if the disease is still only on the skin and the person still has a fairly healthy immune system.

What immunotherapy drugs are used to treat Kaposi sarcoma?

The main immunotherapy medicine used to treat KS is a manmade version of interferon-alfa, a chemical in the body that normally helps boost the immune system. This substance is thought to help the immune system fight off viral infections. 

How is immunotherapy given?

Interferon-alfa is given daily as a shot (injection). It is injected either into a muscle (intramuscular, or IM) or under the skin (subcutaneous, or sub-q). You or a caregiver can learn to give these shots at home. 

What are common side effects of immunotherapy?

Interferon-alfa often causes flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, weakness, and muscle pain. People often feel sick while getting this treatment, which is one of the reasons it is not used often. It can also cause liver problems, low blood cell counts, and confusion or mood changes. 

Working with your healthcare provider

It's important to know which 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.