About Sarcoma

What are sarcomas?

Sarcomas are cancers of tissues that give structure and form to the body. They can develop from muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels, nerves, bone, many deep skin tissues, and the fibrous tissues surrounding joints. These tumors frequently occur in the arms and legs but can appear anywhere in the body.

How common are sarcomas?

Compared to other cancers (for example, skin, breast, prostate, or lung cancer), sarcomas are rare. They account for less than 5% of all cancers in adults, and about 15% of all cancers in children. In the United States, about 10,000 new cases are diagnosed in adults each year.

What are some types of sarcomas?

Doctors classify many sarcomas according to the type of tissue in which they arise:

  • Osteosarcoma arises from bone
  • Liposarcoma occurs in fat
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma starts in muscle
  • Ewing sarcoma is a type of bone tumor usually occurring in boys
  • Kaposi sarcoma is a type likely to occur in people who are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Who can get a sarcoma?

People of all ages and all races can develop sarcoma, but some types arise most commonly in certain age groups. For example, rhabdomyosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma occur most often in children and young adults, while osteosarcomas occur mostly in older adults.

Risk factors for sarcomas include the following:

  • Family history of sarcoma
  • Occupational exposure to known carcinogens, such as pesticides
  • Radiation treatments for other cancers
  • Certain medical conditions (such as HIV infection)

People with any of these sarcoma risk factors should speak with their doctor regularly about the disease. Those with a strong family history of sarcoma may also wish to meet with a genetic counselor.

Are there screening recommendations for sarcomas?

Treatment for most sarcomas is highly successful if the cancer is found early, but currently no routine screening recommendations are available for people who do not have risk factors for the disease.

What are signs and symptoms of sarcomas?

It is wise to see a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • A new or growing lump anywhere on the body, whether painful or not
  • Abdominal pain that gradually worsens
  • Blood in vomit or stool

The symptoms do not necessarily mean cancer. Noncancerous (benign) tumors are 200 times more common than sarcomas. Only evaluation by a doctor can determine whether or not a lump or other symptom is cancerous.

What treatments are available for sarcomas?

Depending on the type of tumor, your doctors may recommend a combination of treatments. Usually, sarcomas require surgical removal. Sometimes, doctors may treat sarcomas with radiation therapy or chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumor before surgery.

Sometimes patients also need radiation therapy and chemotherapy after surgery. Clinical trials that test new medications and treatment plans may also be available. Ask your doctor if you are eligible.