Every year in the month of July, Sarcoma Awareness Month is celebrated around the world to raise public awareness about it and to support the people who are diagnosed with it.
Sarcoma is a rare yet deadly form of cancer that lacks awareness among many people. Just like each cancer is represented by a ribbon, it is represented by a yellow ribbon which symbolizes the fight against Sarcoma and helps the public to recognize and understand this uncommon cancer.
A sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that develops in the connective tissues of the body. The connective tissues include muscles, tendons, blood vessels, bones, cartilage, nerves, and fat which connect and support the other tissues or organs of the body. The word “Sarcoma” is derived from a Greek word that means fleshy growth. Though it is uncommon, And mostly affects young people it can occur in children, teens, and adults irrespective of age. In general, this term represents a complex family of cancers that cover a wide variety of diseases that arise from bones and soft tissues.
Soft Tissue Sarcoma
As the name suggests, soft tissue sarcoma originates in the soft tissues of the body such as muscles, tendons, cartilage, fat, nerves, and blood vessels. These are usually found in the arms, chest, abdomen, or legs. They occur commonly in children and adults.
The most common symptom of soft tissue is swelling and sometimes tenderness. If the tumor has developed near a joint can result in difficulty with the normal movement of the joint. The other symptoms may include:
Unexpected weight loss
A painless lump that becomes sore or painful eventually, which need to be examined by the doctor
As the name suggests, it originates in the soft tissues of the body such as muscles, tendons, cartilage, fat, nerves, and blood vessels. These are usually found in the arms, chest, abdomen, or legs. They occur commonly in children and adults.
There are many types of soft tissue sarcomas based on the location or which soft tissue of the body is affected. Here is a list of common soft tissue along with the affected part of the body respectively.
Soft Tissue Sarcoma Type
Affected Soft Tissue
The lining of blood vessels or lymph vessel
Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)
Neuromuscular cells of intestines
Fat tissues in the thigh, back of the abdomen or behind the knee
Smooth muscles that line the walls of organs
The synovial membrane, which is the connective tissue that lines that joint cavity and produces synovial fluid that lubricates and nourishes the joints.
The protective lining of the nerves
Fibroblasts, cells responsible for creating the connective tissues throughout the body
The lining of the blood vessels and lymphatic vessels and soft tissues in multiple locations of the body
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Bone sarcoma is considered the primary bone cancer. Similar to soft tissue sarcomas, bone sarcomas are also named according to the location of the body where the tumor has originated. Bone sarcomas are different from metastasis, which usually spread from cancer in another part of the body.
The common symptoms are:
Pain in the site of a tumor
Swelling around the bone
Weakened bone, that may lead to fracture
Tumors that develop in or around the joints can cause swelling and tenderness and limit the range of movement.
The biggest challenge with bone sarcomas is that they affect young people and children. The most common types are mentioned below:
Osteosarcoma: It is the most common type that develops in osteoblasts, cells that are responsible for bone formation
Chondrosarcoma: In this type, cancer originates in the cartilage and later spreads to the bone. It is most common in the middle-aged group and usually develops in the shoulders, pelvis, and upper leg.
Chordoma: Chordoma is a rare type of bone cancer that can develop anywhere in the spine, right from the base of the skull to the tailbone. As the chordoma grows, it extends into the bone and affects the soft tissue around them.
Ewing’s Sarcoma: Ewing’s sarcoma is the form of cancer that starts either in bones or the soft tissues around the bones such as cartilage or the nerves. The most common sites of this type of sarcoma are ribs, upper arm, pelvis, and legs.
If anyone experiences or is suspected to have symptoms of sarcoma, they might be prescribed some tests or procedures in order to diagnose it and to determine the extent of the disease. The diagnostic tests or procedures may include:
Physical Examination: The person might get a physical exam by the doctor to find the unusual changes that may indicate the symptoms such as a tumor, lump, or swelling.
Imaging Tests: Imaging tests are prescribed according to the suspected type of sarcoma. If the patient shows symptoms of soft tissue, he/she might be suggested to get an MRI, Ultrasound, or a PET scan. In case of bone sarcoma, the doctor prescribes get an X-ray, CT, or bone scan which helps to detect bone and joint problems.
Biopsy: In case of a tumor or lump found during the physical exam or imaging tests, a biopsy is done. This involves collecting a sample from the suspected tissue for further diagnosis. Biopsy results determine whether the tumor or lump is cancerous or not. This helps in choosing the best treatment options available.
History of Radiation Therapy: One can have a higher risk of developing sarcoma if they have previously received radiation therapy for cancer treatment.
Genetic Disorders: People with a family history of cancer will have an increased risk of developing sarcoma as there are higher chances of inheriting the syndromes from previous generations when compared to others.
Chronic Swelling: Experiencing long-term swelling or lymphedema, a condition in which swelling is caused due to the blocked or damaged lymphatic system can raise the risk of angiosarcoma.
Chemical Exposure: Experiencing long-term swelling or lymphedema, a condition in which swelling is caused due to the blocked or damaged lymphatic system can raise the risk of angiosarcoma.
Though the causes of sarcoma are unclear, there are some factors that can raise one’s risk of developing sarcoma. Here is the list of most common risk factors:
The type of sarcoma
The location, size of the tumor
How aggressive is the growth of sarcoma
The extent of the disease; whether it has spread to other parts of the body or not
Whether it is a newly developed sarcoma or recurred after treating previous cancer
The various treatment options are:
Surgery: Surgery is preferred for tumor removal or to remove all the cancer cells. In some cases, the process of removing the cancer cells may include amputation of an arm or leg to remove all cancer. However, in limb salvage surgery (LSS), limb functionality is preserved according to the possibility during the surgery.
Immunotherapy: A therapy that uses drugs in order to boost a person’s immune system so that it can fight back cancer.
Chemotherapy: Similar to immunotherapy, chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to destroy rapidly growing cancer cells.
Radiation Therapy: In radiation therapy, high-powered energy beams are used to kill the cancer cells. This therapy is often carried out to shrink the tumor before removing it by surgery or to kill the leftover cancer cells after surgery is done. In some cases, radiation therapy is considered the main treatment option when surgery is not considerable.
Targeted Therapies: A therapy that uses drugs in order to boost a person’s immune system so that it can fight back cancer.
Early identification and treatment increase the chances of survival as well as the preservation of the organ, joint, and its function. Its survival rates will be determined by the tumor's grade at the time of diagnosis. If cancer is contained to the place where it began and does not spread to other parts of the body, there is a better chance of survival. This type of low-grade soft tissue sarcoma can be healed by removing the tumor through surgery. Aggressive sarcomas, in which cancer cells have expanded to a large amount, are more difficult to cure and have a lower survival rate. Though cancer cannot be cured in its latter stages, the spread can be slowed for a length of time in order to preserve the functionality of the body.
Frequently Asked Questions:
When a sarcoma has spread to other regions of the body, it is labeled stage IV. Stage IV sarcomas are rarely cured. But some patients can be cured if the main (primary) tumor and all areas of cancer spread (metastasis) can be removed by surgery. When it has just gone to the lungs, the chances of success are the highest.
A sarcoma is a type of cancer that begins in tissues such as bones or muscles. Sarcomas are classified into two types: bone sarcomas and soft tissue sarcomas. Soft tissue sarcomas can form in fat, muscles, nerves, fibrous tissues, blood vessels, or deep skin tissues. They can be found all over the body.
If the sarcoma is in an early stage and has not spread from where it started, surgical treatment is usually very effective and many people are cured.