Sarcomas are a general term for cancerous tumors of the connective tissues in the body. The word sarcoma derives from the Greek word that means “fleshy growth.”
Sarcoma types include cancers of bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels or other connective or supportive tissue.
There are at least eight general categories of sarcomas, with one of them being soft tissue sarcomas including over twenty categories.
They are all given different names, based on the type of tissue from which they arise. For instance, osteosarcoma comes from bone tissue, liposarcoma comes from fat tissue and chondrosarcoma comes from cartilage tissue.
Sarcomas are generally divided into two primary types: bone sarcomas and soft tissue sarcomas. Within these groups, they are sub-divided by the type of cell found in the tumor.
Sarcomas are considered rare however there are between 9,800-15,000 new cases per year in the United States. This represents one-half to one percent of the 1.5 million new cancer diagnoses in the United States each year. Due to its rarity, a cancer professional should be consulted for treatment.
Some studies have shown that the following are at a higher risk for soft tissue sarcoma:
- People exposed to phenoxyacetic acid in herbicides and clorphenols in wood preservative
- People exposed to high doses of radiation
- People with certain inherited diseases such as neurofibromatosis
Signs and Symptoms
Soft tissue sarcomas rarely cause any symptoms in the early stages. Because of the elasticity of soft tissue, these tumors can grow quite large before they are felt. Starting with a painless lump, they may result in pain or soreness.
Bone sarcoma symptoms can vary based on the size and location of the tumor. Pain is the most common symptom.
Soft tissue sarcomas can be diagnosed by a surgical biopsy, in which the tissue from the tumor is removed and analyzed under a microscope.
Bone sarcomas are initially researched with a patient’s medical history and physical examination. The exam may include a blood test for an enzyme called alkaline phosphatase. X-rays and other imaging tests may also be ordered. However, a biopsy must be done to effectively diagnose for cancer.
As with most cancers, treatment will vary based on the tumor type, size, stage, patient’s age and health. Soft tissue sarcomas are treated using either surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or combination therapy (more than one form of treatment).
Bone sarcomas are often treated using surgery, although radiation therapy (the use of ionizing radiation beams to kill malignant cells), may also be used. Depending on the severity, chemotherapy options may be used as well.
With most cancers, a person’s prognosis depends on the time of diagnosis and the patient’s overall health. For sarcomas, results vary greatly depending on the type of sarcoma and where it is located.