Sarcoma is a type of cancer that forms in the bones and soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, fat, etc.). It is not one of the most common types of cancer, but it is something to be aware of as you age. How much do you know about sarcoma?
Sarcoma Awareness Month
Did you know July is Sarcoma Awareness Month? Have you considered showing your support this month (or any time of year)? The Sarcoma Foundation has a series of merchandise you can purchase to support research and awareness. You can also find a sarcoma race near you, complete a challenge, or donate directly to the foundation.
Cancer is often unpredictable and can develop in people who don’t appear to have a high risk. However, there are certain signs that we can look for:
- Radiation Exposure (uncommon): Radiation treatments for other cancers can cause sarcoma tumors to develop in rare cases. The benefits of radiation treatments still outweigh the risks.
- Gene Mutations: If you have a history of sarcoma in your family, you are at a higher risk of developing it at any point in your life.
- Neurofibromatosis (von Recklinghausen disease): This is a rare genetic mutation that forms in nerves under the skin.
- Gardner Syndrome: Another genetic mutation, this syndrome leads to abnormal tissue growth in the colon and intestines.
- Li-Fraumeni Syndrome: A gene defect that increases risk of breast cancer, brain tumors, leukemia, and sarcoma.
- Retinoblastoma: Children’s eye-cancer caused by a gene defect that increases risk for sarcoma.
- Werner Syndrome: Increases risk of cataracts, skin changes, clogged arteries/heart attacks, and sarcoma.
- Gorlin Syndrome (Nevoid Basal Cell Carcinoma Syndrome/NBCCS): Gene defect that increases risk for basal cell skin cancers, fibrosarcoma, and rhabdomyosarcoma.
- Tuberous Sclerosis: Leads to seizures, learning problems, kidney problems, benign tumors, and rhabdomyosarcoma.
- Damaged Lymph System (Lymphedema): Can cause a cancerous tumour called lymphangiosarcoma.
- Chemicals: Exposure to arsenic, dioxin, herbicides, and vinyl chloride (a chemical used to make plastic) can cause sarcoma.
Types of Sarcoma
Unlike other types of cancer, there are several different forms of sarcoma:
- Gastrointestinal (most common)
- Leiomyosarcoma (abdominal muscle, pelvic organs, and blood vessels)
- Liposarcoma (fat tissue)
- Pleomorphic (limbs and abdomen)
- Osseous (bones)
- Angiosarcoma (blood/lymphatic vessels)
- Chondrosarcoma (cartilage)
- Ewing’s (primitive tissue or bone cells)
- Fibrosarcoma (fibrous tissue)
- Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor (nerves/brain and spinal cord tissue)
- Rhabdomyosarcoma (skeletal muscle, usually in the arms/legs but sometimes in the urinary and reproductive organs)
- Synovial (usually in young adults)
Sarcoma Symptoms & Diagnosis
If you have soft tissue sarcoma, you will likely see or feel a firm mass under your skin. They may not always cause pain, but you may feel swelling and tenderness. If it is in your abdomen, you may experience vomiting or abnormal stool. If you have bone sarcoma, you will most likely experience bone pain, weakness, swelling, and fractures. You may be able to feel a lump.
If you are experiencing any of the above soft tissue symptoms, a doctor will likely perform an MRI, CT scan, or PET scan to look for tumors. If any lumps appear, a doctor will perform a biopsy to remove and examine cells. For bone cancer symptoms, a doctor might perform a blood test. High levels of alkaline phosphatase in adults can represent a bone disease or tumor. Imaging tests (MRI, CT, PET) and biopsies will likely follow.
If you’re worried about your chances of developing sarcoma, a doctor can use the UW-OncoPlex tool to look for gene mutations and determine your risk.
Treatment for sarcoma will depend on the stage of the cancer upon diagnosis. Chemotherapy, radiation, and amputation are all possible treatment options. If you’re concerned about your possibility of having sarcoma, see your doctor NOW. Sarcoma, like other cancers, is much easier to treat when caught early on.
Start by discussing your concerns with your primary physician before you consider seeing a specialist. Our doctors can help!
If you’re concerned about your cancer coverage, talk to our partners at Medicare Plan Finder. They can send an agent to you (free of charge) to help you figure out whether or not you’re in the best health care plan for your needs. They have saved seniors hundreds on their healthcare costs!
Click here to request an appointment with Medicare Plan Finder or call them directly at 833-438-3676.