Sarcoma: The Basics
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.
One known risk factor is having had radiation therapy for another cancer. A sarcoma can happen in the area that was radiated. Other than this, no clear causes have been found.
Currently, there are no screening tests for sarcoma.
Symptoms of Sarcoma
Symptoms depend 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 (belly) can cause belly or back pain.
- Sarcoma in the GI tract can cause diarrhea, constipation, blood in stool, or belly 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 find a provider that has experience with this type of cancer. If it is thought you may have sarcoma, more testing will be done. These tests may include:
The tests that are done depend on where the suspected sarcoma is.
To guide treatment, sarcoma is "staged." This stage is based on:
- Size of the tumor.
- Histologic grade (how different the cells look 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 plans depend on 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 for 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 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.
American Cancer Society. (2019). What is soft tissue sarcoma? Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/soft-tissue-sarcoma/about/soft-tissue-sarcoma.html
American Cancer Society. (2021). Key statistics for soft tissue sarcoma. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/soft-tissue-sarcoma/about/key-statistics.html
National Cancer Institute. (2020). Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/types/soft-tissue-sarcoma/patient/adult-soft-tissue-treatment-pdq