Sarcoma: The Basics

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: May 6, 2019

Sarcoma is a cancer that can affect either bone or soft tissues. Soft tissues include muscles, tendons, fibrous tissues, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and synovial tissues. Sarcoma is caused by cells in these tissues growing out of control, which forms a tumor. There are over 40 types of sarcoma and they are named based on the type of cells in which the cancer started. Sarcoma that has spread from the bone or soft tissue to another part of the body is called metastatic cancer.  

Risk Factors 

One known risk factor is that radiation therapy for another cancer can cause a sarcoma in the area that was radiated. Other than this, no clear-cut causes have been found.  

Screening 

Currently, there are no screening tests for sarcoma.  

Symptoms of Sarcoma 

Symptoms are dependent on where in the body the sarcoma develops. 

In the Soft Tissue: 

  • Mass or lump, with or without swelling, and in some cases causing pain. 
  • A sarcoma in the abdomen can cause belly or back pain.
  • Sarcoma in the GI tract can cause diarrhea, constipation, blood in stool, or abdominal pain. 
  • Uterine sarcoma can cause vaginal bleeding, swelling, or pain in the pelvic area. 

In the Bone: 

  • Pain, with or without a mass that can be felt. 

Diagnosis of Sarcoma 

Sarcoma is very rare and it is important to seek out a provider that has experience with this type of cancer. When sarcoma is suspected more testing is done, which may include: 

  • X-Ray. 
  • CT.
  • MRI. 
  • PET scan. 
  • Biopsy.  

The tests that are done depend on where the suspected sarcoma is.  

Staging Sarcoma 

To guide treatment, sarcoma is "staged." This stage is based on: 

  • Size of the tumor. 
  • Histologic grade (how different the cells looks compared to normal cells). 
  • Whether cancer cells are in the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. 

Stages range from stage I (more limited disease) to stage IV (advanced disease).  

Treatment 

Treatment plans depend upon the size and location of the tumor, the grade (aggressiveness), and whether or not it has spread. Each case of sarcoma is unique and will be treated differently. Below are general treatments used to treat sarcoma: 

  • Surgery to remove the tumor, which may include amputation if the sarcoma is in a leg or arm. 
  • Radiation can be done before, during, or after surgery to kill cancer cells and prevent recurrence (the cancer from coming back). 
  • Chemotherapy may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor to make surgery easier, or after surgery to prevent recurrence. 

This article is a basic guide sarcoma. You can learn more about your type of sarcoma and treatment by using the links below. 

All About Soft Tissue Sarcoma 

All About Sarcomas of the Bone 

All About Osteosarcoma 

Resources for More Information: Sarcoma 

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