Sarcoma Cancer - What It Is And Who Is At Risk

by Jane Ashley

July is Sarcoma Awareness Month. Sarcoma is sometimes considered a “forgotten” cancer. It’s rare, accounting for less than 1% of all cancer cases in adults and about 20% of cancer cases in children. Sarcoma is a confusing type of cancer to understand because it doesn’t occur in just one organ — it can occur in blood vessels, bones, fat, joints, muscles, and nerves. It’s considered a “connective tissue” cancer.

July Is Sarcoma Awareness Month Yellow

Sarcoma facts – things you probably didn’t know.

1. 12,390 soft-tissue sarcomas will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.
2. 3,260 bone sarcomas will occur this year.
3. An average of 1,500-to-1,700 children and adolescents will be diagnosed with either soft tissue or bone sarcoma every year.
4. Sarcomas can occur anywhere, but between 50-60% occur in the arms and legs.

How can there be cancer in our connective tissues?

Just as we see here at WhatNext, cancer doesn’t discriminate. Cancer can and does occur in every part of the human body – from our blood and bones to our colon, stomach, and private parts.

Connective tissue consists of the parts of our body that hold us together. Connective tissue is comprised of muscles, ligaments, tendons, fat, nerves, and cartridge. Given that these tissues occur all over our body, sarcoma may be found in almost any part of our body.

There are two primary types of sarcoma :

• Soft tissue sarcoma – develops most often in the muscles and blood vessels.
• Bone sarcoma – develops within the bone.

Within these two major types of sarcoma, there are more than 70 subtypes — depending on the organ/location where they form. These are some of the more common forms:

• Ewing’s sarcoma – develops in bone cells or immature soft tissue
• Fibrosarcoma (fibroblastic sarcoma) – Develops in fibrous tissue
• Gastrointestinal stromal tumor – Develops in the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract
• Kaposi’s sarcoma – develops in the cells that line lymph or blood vessels
• Liposarcoma – develops in fatty tissue
• Osteosarcoma – occurs in cells that form bones
• Pleomorphic sarcoma – develops in the soft tissues of the abdomen, arms, and legs
• Synovial sarcoma – develops in the cells near the tendons and joints

What are the symptoms of sarcoma?

50 60%Of Sarcomas Occur In Legs And Arms

Because sarcomas occur in both soft tissue and bones, the symptoms are varied, depending on the location.

Symptoms of a soft tissue sarcoma:

• A lump in the arm, leg, or torso – usually 2-inches or more in diameter
• Uterine bleeding may be caused by a uterine sarcoma.
• Sarcomas in the heart or lungs may cause chest pain or difficulty breathing.
• Sarcomas that occur deep within the body may not cause any symptoms until they are quite large and press on nerves or muscles.

Symptoms of bone sarcomas:

• Bone or joint pain
• Swelling near a bone
• Broken or injured bone with no apparent cause

What are the risk factors for sarcomas?

The risk factors and causes of sarcoma are varied. However, if one of these risk factors is relevant for you or a family member, pay attention to lumps and swellings that don’t go away.

• Exposure to phenoxyacetic acid in herbicides and chlorophenols in wood preservatives
• Exposure to vinyl chloride
• Previous radiation treatment
• Inherited syndromes, including hereditary retinoblastoma, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis, neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, and Werner syndrome

How is sarcoma treated?

• Surgery. Surgery is the most common treatment — surgeons remove the tumor and surrounding tissue.
• Radiation. Radiation may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to kill off any remaining cancerous cells.
• Chemotherapy. Chemo may be used alone or with radiation to shrink tumors before surgery or as an adjuvant (mop-up) after surgery.

Sarcomas Account For20%Of Childhood Cancers

The Bottom Line

Sarcoma is a rare cancer that may occur in any part of the soft tissues of the body and may also occur in the bones. Because sarcoma is a complex disease with over 70 subset types, most patients would be wise to seek a second opinion from a larger cancer treatment center who is likely to have more experience in treating sarcoma.

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