Did You Know...The Facts About Sarcoma?

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: August 4, 2008

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  • Sarcoma is a rare cancer that affects the connective tissue in the body. These tumors are divided into tumors of the bone or soft tissue.
  • This includes tumors arising from the muscles, tendons, fat cells, blood vessels, synovial fluid (in joints), bones and cartilage.
  • It is a rare cancer, accounting for about 1% of adult cancers. There are approximately 10,000 cases of soft tissue sarcoma per year and 2400 of bone sarcomas. Compare that with 185,000 new breast cancer cases per year.
  • It is more common in children and makes up 15% of all childhood cancers.
  • The term “sarcoma” encompasses over 40 different tumor types.
  • Sarcomas are cancerous (malignant), but benign (noncancerous) tumors of the bone and soft tissue are much more common.
  • Most people who report having “bone cancer” actually have metastatic bone tumors, meaning that the cancer has spread to the bone from another area of the body (i.e. prostate or lung cancer that has spread to the bone). A cancer that starts in the bone or soft tissue (also called primary bone or soft tissue tumors) is far less common.
  • Determining the exact type of sarcoma is critical, as this will dictate treatment decisions.
  • These tumors often present as a painless lump in the case of soft tissue sarcomas (STS), and can be difficult to diagnose. Bone sarcomas (BS) often start with pain in a bone.
  • 55-60% of all STS are located in the limbs (arms & legs).
  • The cause of these tumors is mostly unknown. Research has found that people exposed to radiation and certain chemicals are at higher risk, but in most cases a cause is never determined.
  • Because sarcoma is so rare, many physicians have never seen a case. It is very important for people with these tumors to be treated at specialty centers familiar with sarcoma.
  • Treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy depending on the particular type of sarcoma.
  • Cure rates vary drastically among the different sarcoma types and between children and adults.

You can learn more about sarcoma by visiting:

The Sarcoma Alliance: Join the Sarcoma Alliance on August 24, 2008 in celebrating the 9th annual Ocean of Hope campaign (O2H), a day dedicated to the sea of people affected by cancer, and specifically those with sarcoma.

The Washington Musculoskeletal Tumor Center

Sarcoma Foundation of America


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