The number of HIV patients with Kaposi's sarcoma, a once-rare cancer that became a marker for AIDS in the early days of the epidemic, has declined sharply due to the use of antiretroviral drugs, according to a European study released Monday. The annual incidence of the cancer fell 39% between 1994 and 2003, according to a study of nearly 10,000 HIV-positive people by the Royal Free and University College in London and several other European hospitals and health centers.
Kaposi's sarcoma first appears as a brownish skin lesion, although it can also develop in the lungs, liver, and other internal organs. Until AIDS surfaced in 1981, the cancer was seen primarily in elderly Mediterranean men. It became one of the most common ailments plaguing AIDS patients in the 1980s. But the introduction a decade later of highly active antiretroviral therapy gave doctors a powerful new weapon against the opportunistic diseases that killed many AIDS victims.
Anecdotal data and small studies had indicated that KS cases were declining as the new drugs suppressed levels of HIV in patients' blood and allowed their immune systems to recover. The large European study was, however, the first conclusive indication of a link between the therapy and declining cases of KS. The findings were published in the May 10 online edition of the American Cancer Society journal Cancer.
In their study the Europeans noted that those with a higher current T-cell count or who had been on HAART therapy for a longer period of time had a decreased incidence of the cancer. "This indicates that the current CD4 count remains one of the most important prognostic factors for Kaposi's sarcoma, and patients who start HAART should experience a reduction in the risk of Kaposi's sarcoma if the CD4 count starts to rise," the researchers said. (Reuters)