From the top of your head to your toes, sarcoma can grow in bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage, and any connective tissue, which makes it a difficult disease to detect. Understanding more about this disease can help people to identify it early. Adam C. Berger, MD, FACS, chief of Melanoma and Soft Tissue Surgical Oncology and associate director for Shared Resources at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey shares some facts.
1. According to the American Cancer Society, sarcoma, often called ‘forgotten cancer,’ makes up approximately 1 per cent of all adult cancer diagnoses.
2. There are two broad categories. The first category is soft tissue sarcoma, which means that cancer arises in the soft tissue elements of anywhere in the body (extremity, chest, abdomen, etc), such as muscles, fat, nerves and blood vessels. The second category is bone sarcoma, which are cancers that originate in the bone.
3. The most common areas sarcoma tumours grow are the legs, hands, arms, neck, chest, shoulders, abdomen, and hips.
4. These are further classified into more than 70 subtypes. Subtypes of sarcoma are named based on the surrounding tissue, the affected area of the bone or the type of cells creating the tumour.
5. The most common types are soft tissue sarcomas, including angiosarcomas, fibrosarcomas, leiomyosarcomas, rhabdomyosarcomas, liposarcomas and synovial sarcomas.
6. Osteosarcomas (bone sarcomas) are the second most common type, with the least frequent type being sarcomas that develop in internal organs, such as the lungs.
7. The symptoms of sarcomas vary because they take multiple forms in multiple locations. For example, in their early stages, soft tissue sarcomas rarely display any symptoms other than a painless lump. As the tumour grows, pain may occur depending on where the tumour is located, or if it presses on nearby nerves.
8. With sarcoma of the bone, pain is the most common symptom. Treatments are dependent upon the subtype a patient has and will vary widely depending on a variety of other factors such as tumour location and size, the patient’s age and if the tumour is new or recurrent.
9. There are known inherited disorders, including Li-Fraumeni syndrome, that significantly increase the risk of developing both soft-tissue and bone sarcoma – particularly among children and young adults.
10. Expertise is critical. With a rare and complex type of cancer such as sarcoma, it is important to seek the best possible care. (MKF/NW)