Sarcoma 101



What is sarcoma?

Sarcoma is cancer in connective tissue or nonepithelial tissue. Connective tissue is composed of fat, blood vessels, nerves, bones, muscles, deep skin tissues, and cartilage.

What are the types of sarcomas?

There are two main types, soft tissue sarcoma and bone sarcoma. Under these main types there are about a 100 different types, types are based on the type of cell of origin. Soft tissue comprises 1% of all adult cancers and is considered rare. Soft tissue can metastasize (spread) and form secondary tumors. Bone sarcoma is considered very rare with only 2,890 new cases diagnosed every year in the United States. Bone sarcomas are usually not life threatening and but can compromise healthy bone tissue.

How prevalent is sarcoma? Who is affected?

In the United States there are about 14,000 new cases of diagnosed every year. 15% of cancers diagnosed to children under the age of 20 are sarcomas. Over half of the people diagnosed with sarcoma are younger than 60 years old.

What causes sarcoma?

Although we do not fully understand what triggers or influences sarcoma there are a few contributors that have been linked to sarcoma. Long-term exposure to wood preservatives with chlorophenols, phenoxyacetic acid in herbicides and vinyl chloride found in plastics can elevate risk. There have been families with multiple cases of sarcoma and it is thought in those cases to be a result of a rare inherited genetic alteration. Some other known rare diseases have shown to have an increased risk in developing soft tissue sarcomas such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome and von Recklinghausen’s disease (known as neurofibromatosis).

How do patients get diagnosed?

Surgical biopsies can determine whether a tumor is benign or malignant. Tissue is removed and examined to make note of the grade (the degree of abnormality of the cancer cells) which can predict the probable growth rate and spreadability.

What is the treatment for sarcomas?

Treatment options differ depending on the size, grade and spread of the tumor. Treatments range with surgery (most common), radiation therapy (before or after surgery or to shrink tumors), and/or chemotherapy (used with radiation, prior or following surgery).

More resources:
Sarcoma Foundation of America
Sarcoma Alliance

Photo by COMSALUD, via Flickr