In conjunction with Sarcoma Awareness month, which is commemorated annually in July, we aim to raise awareness of what is known to be the cancer people have forgotten. The fact that there is little understanding about sarcomas and the efforts to encourage fact-finding and medication development is more difficult due to a lack of awareness and comprehension.
Let’s read more on sarcoma cancer so we can have a better understanding of what we are raising our awareness for.
What is sarcoma cancer?
Sarcoma is a type of cancer that can occur in several spots in your body. Sarcoma is the common term for a wide group of cancers that occurs in the bones and in the soft-connected tissues.
Soft tissue sarcoma develops in the tissues that connect, support, and cover other body structures which include muscle, fat, blood vessels, tendons, nerves and the lining of the joints.
Sarcomas are a rare disease. International incidence rates are estimated to range between 1.8 and 5.0 cases per 100 000 per year for soft-tissue sarcomas and between 0.03 and 0.3 cases per 100 000 per year for bone sarcomas.
Mans, D., Lall, A. B., Macnack, V., Van Tholl, J., Zandveld, E., & Vrede, M. (2014, March). Incidence, and Gender, Age and Ethnic Distribution of Sarcomas. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4655658/
Who is affected by sarcoma?
Sarcoma can occur in both children and adults. In general, soft tissue sarcoma happens more frequently in adults. For bone sarcoma diagnoses, it occurs more often in children, teens, and adults above 65 years old.
What causes sarcoma?
Sarcomas develop when immature bone or soft tissues made changes to their DNA, which leads to forming cancer cells that grow disorderly. They might in the end, form a tumor or mass that invades healthy tissues that are closed to them.
When you leave it untreated, it can move through your bloodstream or lymphatic system from the starting location where it first formed to other organs (metastasis). Metastasized cancer is known to be difficult to treat.
As with other forms of cancer, researchers do not know what causes a healthy cell to change into sarcoma.
What are the risk factors associated with sarcoma?
Some factors might increase your risk of developing sarcoma. These includes:
Exposure to chemicals
Exposure to arsenic and some other chemicals used for plastic manufacturing (vinyl chloride monomer), herbicides (phenoxyacetic acid) and wood preservatives like chlorophenols.
Exposed to high doses of radiation from past cancer treatments.
Lymphedema is the build-up of fluid in soft body tissues when the lymph system is damaged or blocked which results to long-term swelling in your arms or legs.
Certain diseases and chromosome mutations can be inherited like Gardner syndrome, von Hippel-Lindau disease, Werner syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Gorlin syndrome, retinoblastoma, La-Fraumeni syndrome, and also neurofibromatosis type-1.
What are the symptoms of sarcoma?
Soft tissue sarcomas are difficult to notice as they can form anywhere in your body but some sarcomas may not cause noticeable signs in the early stages.
For some sarcomas, you may experience a painless lump under your skin, while some others do not pain you until they grow big enough to put pressure on an organ.
Other sarcomas can also cause a long period of bone pain or swelling in your arms or legs that can aggravate at night. These changes may put a limit on your physical movement.
- A new limp that may or may not hurt
- Experience extreme pain in your arm, leg, abdomen, or pelvis
- Limited range of motion of your arm or leg
- Back pain
- Unexplainable weight loss
Sarcoma shares the same signs and symptoms with other conditions or diseases. Your doctor or healthcare provider can assist to determine whether your symptoms are correlating with sarcoma or other diseases.
How is sarcoma diagnosed?
Your doctor or healthcare provider will start with a thorough medical history and physical examination. You may need to go through special tests like a biopsy to obtain a tissue sample to diagnose the exact type of sarcoma you have conditioned.
The following tests may be used when making a diagnosis:
X-ray uses a small amount of radiation to take images of the bones and soft tissues in your body.
Computed tomography (CT) scan
A CT scan is a method to diagnose by using computers to combine many x-ray images into cross-sectional views of your insides.
Magnetic resonance imaging(MRI)
An MRI, large magnets, radio waves, and a computer are used to generate clear images of your insides. MRI can also create more detailed pictures of your body if an x-ray shows something unusual.
The bone scan is a method of diagnosis where your healthcare provider will inject a small amount of radioactive material into your body to identify any bone disorders like bone sarcoma.
A PET scan uses a designated glucose tracer that holds on to cells by using high levels of glucose, like cancer cells. PET scan allows you to see which parts of the body that has unusually high amounts of glucose levels, suspecting a tumor.
A biopsy is a method of diagnosis where your health provider removes a piece of tissue from your tumor and has it tested in a lab. A pathologist will analyze the tissue under a microscope to see detect a sarcoma.
This method helps your provider to understand what kind of sarcoma you are conditioned for and which treatments are suitable.
What are the stages of sarcoma?
The purpose of cancer staging is to have a better understanding of how severe a sarcoma is and what treatments are the most effective. A doctor or health provider classifies most sarcoma cases based on the TNM classification system:
T – Describe the size and location of the primary tumor
N – Describes whether cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes
M – Describes whether cancer has metastasized (spread to other organs)
Your doctor or healthcare provider might determine what grade (G) your cancer is. The grading system provides information based on the appearance of the cancer cells including how much they resemble regular cells.
Technically, the more normal the cancer cells look, the better you are with your prognosis. They use this information to put a grading to your sarcoma. They assign a number from 1 to 4 to grade your stage.
The higher the number, the more cancerous your condition is, which has grown locally or spread across your body. Different types of sarcoma come with different staging criteria.
How is sarcoma treated?
Sarcoma is treated differently, depending on what type you are diagnosed with, where it is located in your body, how fully developed it is, and whether or not it has spread across your body or is metastasized.
Through surgery, it takes the tumor out of your body. Typically in most cases of osteosarcoma, the doctor can remove only the cancer cells, and you won’t need to be amputated.
This method of treatment can shrink the tumor before surgery or kill the remaining cancer cells after surgery. This could be the primary treatment if surgery is not suitable for your condition.
Medication can also be used to treat sarcoma instead of proceeding with surgery. Chemo is commonly the first treatment to be suggested when cancer has spread.
There are newer treatments introduced that use medications or man-made versions of antibodies from the immune system to stop the cancer cells from growing while unharming the normal cells.
What is the survival rate of sarcoma?
Most people who are diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma are treated by only surgery but if the tumor is low-grade, it means that is not likely to spread across the body. Higher stages of sarcomas are difficult to treat successfully.
The survival rate for osteosarcoma is between 60% and 75% if the cancer has not yet spread outside of the area it is formed. It is possible to be cured if all of the cancer can be removed successfully through surgery.
McMillen, M. (2022, January 26). Sarcoma. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/cancer/sarcoma