BACKGROUND: Kaposi's sarcoma is the most common secondary neoplasm to complicate HIV infection and may cause pulmonary disease. METHODS: A prospective study was carried out in 140 consecutive patients who were HIV seropositive and required bronchoscopy for new respiratory symptoms of at least two weeks' duration, with either a chest radiographic abnormality or abnormality of pulmonary function. The patients were classified into those with single local endobronchial lesions of Kaposi's sarcoma or generalised widespread lesions. Before bronchoscopy all patients had routine simple pulmonary function tests and chest radiography. RESULTS: Thirty nine (21%) patients had evidence of cutaneous Kaposi's sarcoma. Nineteen of the 39 were found to have endobronchial Kaposi's sarcoma lesions at bronchoscopy, but none of those who did not have cutaneous Kaposi's sarcoma. Respiratory symptoms of cough and breathlessness and radiographic abnormalities were attributed to Kaposi's sarcoma in this group, except in four patients who had concomitant pneumocystis pneumonia. Eight patients had local endobronchial Kaposi's sarcoma lesions and 11 had extensive lesions. Patients with extensive lesions had more widespread radiographic abnormalities; four of the patients with local endobronchial lesions had normal chest radiographs. All patients had reduced transfer factor for carbon monoxide and transfer coefficient, whereas patients with extensive endobronchial lesions also had reductions in forced expiratory volume in one second and forced vital capacity. Median survival (with palliative chemotherapy with vincristine and bleomycin) was only seven months. In three patients who needed further diagnostic bronchoscopy endobronchial lesions had regressed while they were having chemotherapy. CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that endobronchial Kaposi's sarcoma is a relatively common finding in patients with AIDS and is particularly common in patients with cutaneous Kaposi's sarcoma who present with respiratory illness. Endobronchial Kaposi's sarcoma causes respiratory disease and abnormalities of pulmonary function. Pulmonary Kaposi's sarcoma should be considered as a possible cause for respiratory illness in any patient with cutaneous Kaposi's sarcoma.
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