Sarcoma

A sarcoma is a rare type of cancer. Sarcomas are different from the much more common carcinomas because they occur in different type of tissue. Sarcomas grow in connective tissue – cells that connect or support other types of tissue in your body. These tumors are most common in the bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage, nerves, fat, and blood vessels of your arms and legs, but they can occur in other areas of your body.
Although there are more than 50 types of sarcomas, they can be divided into two main types: Soft tissue sarcomas and bone sarcomas or osteosarcomas. In 2022, approximately 13,190 cases of soft tissue sarcomas and 800-900 new cases of bone sarcomas will be diagnosed in the United States.
Sarcomas can be treated, often with surgery to remove the tumor.

Sarcoma risk factors

We don’t yet know what causes sarcomas, but we do know some things that increase your risk of developing one:

  • Other people in your family have had sarcomas
  • You have a bone disease called Paget’s disease
  • You have a genetic disorder such as neurofibromatosis, Gardner syndrome, retinoblastoma or Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • You have been exposed to radiation, perhaps during treatment for a previous cancer

Sarcoma Symptoms

Soft tissue sarcomas are difficult to detect because they can grow anywhere in the body. Most often, the first sign is a painless lump. As the lump grows larger, it may press against nerves or muscles and cause you discomfort or breathing problems, or both. There are no tests that can find these tumors before they cause symptoms you notice.
Osteosarcoma may show obvious early symptoms, including:

  • Pain in the affected bone from time to time, which may be worse at night
  • Swelling, which often starts weeks after the pain has gone
  • A limp when the sarcoma is in your leg

Children and young adults are more likely than adults to develop osteosarcoma. And because healthy, active children and teens often have pain and swelling in their arms and legs, osteosarcoma can be mistaken for growing pains or a sports injury. If your child’s pain doesn’t get better, gets worse at night, and is in one arm or leg rather than both, talk to a doctor

If your doctor thinks you may have sarcoma, you will probably need a full examination and tests, including:

  • A sample of cells from the tumor called a biopsy
  • Imaging tests, such as a CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI, to help see inside your body
  • A bone scan, in case you might have osteosarcoma

Surviving sarcoma

Most people diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma are cured by surgery alone if the tumor is low-grade; that is, it is unlikely to spread

other parts of the body. More aggressive sarcomas are more difficult to treat successfully.
The survival rate for osteosarcoma is between 60% and 75% if the cancer has not spread beyond the area of origin. It is more likely to be cured if the entire cancer can be removed by surgery.

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