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AIDS Treatment Data Network
(ATDN) Herpes Cancer?

March 1, 1995
Treatment Review #17 - March 1995

Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) is a type of cancer that can appear in people with AIDS as dark brown or purple marks called lesions. KS can also affect the internal organs. KS can be slow growing, or indolent, but it can also be aggressive and grow very rapidly. If it's aggressive, most people choose to start treatment.

Two Columbia University researchers recently announced there is strong evidence that KS is actually caused by a newly recognized herpes virus which they call KSHV. But demonstrating that a virus causes a cancer is not an easy thing to do.

Herpesviruses have long been suspected as co-factors in HIV disease, although before this no one has suggested that KS was caused by any kind of virus. Herpesviruses are known to sometimes tag along with HIV, and set up shop in a cell by hanging out a welcome flag - the same sugar coated proteins that HIV uses to enter into a cell.

Others feel that HIV infection itself may lead to the development of this cancer. A group of scientists at San Francisco General Hospital, UCSF, suggest that HIV causes the body to produce chemicals that create a hospitable environment for KS to grow.

Both of these groups of scientists could be right. In either case, stopping the growth of KS is a priority. The drugs used to treat KS at the present are not always effective, and they are costly and toxic. Although a new drug, Doxil, has been recommended for approval, there is debate about just how well it works. Are the anti-herpes drugs foscarnet or acyclovir effective against KS. Is the Abbott protease inhibitor a useful KS treatment? Rapidly executed clinical trials - and agreement on what a successful treatment works like - would at least give us an idea.

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