Sarcoma is rare cancer in adults (1% of all adult cancers), but prevalent in children (about 20% of all childhood cancers).
It is made up of many “subtypes” because it can arise from a variety of tissue structures (nerves, muscles, joints, bone, fat, blood vessels – collectively referred to as the body’s “connective tissues”). Because these tissues are found everywhere on the body, Sarcomas can arise anywhere.
Thus, within each site of the more “common” cancers, there is the occasional surprise sarcoma diagnosis (e.g., breast sarcoma, stomach sarcoma, lung sarcoma, ovarian sarcoma, etc.).
The most frequent location is the limbs since this is where the majority of the body’s connective tissue resides. They are commonly hidden deep in the body, so sarcoma is often diagnosed when it has already become too large to expect a hope of being cured.
Although a lot of the lumps and bumps we get are benign, people should have them looked at by a doctor at an early stage in case it is a sarcoma.
Is Sarcoma preventable?
There are some known ways to prevent Sarcoma, albeit limited. The risks factors for sarcoma are the following:
Radiation: This might be related to the treatment of other cancers such as breast cancer. However the risk of Sarcoma is rather low, Radiation accounts for less than 5% of sarcomas.
Genetic predisposition: Syndromes such as the Li-Fraumeni Syndrome are linked to a higher risk of Sarcoma. The Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (LFS) is a hereditary cancer predisposition syndrome.
The most common types of cancer found in families with LFS include osteosarcoma (bone cancer), soft-tissue sarcoma, acute leukemia, breast cancer, brain cancer, and adrenal cortical tumors, which is an organ on the top of the kidney.
Other syndromes and disorders which are linked to tumors, such as multiple endocrine neoplasias, von Hippel-Lindau disease, etc, can also cause Sarcoma.
Lymphedema: It is swelling that generally occurs in one arm or leg. Sometimes both arms or both legs swell.
Lymphedema is most commonly caused by the removal of or damage to the lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment. It results from a blockage in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system.
The blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining well, and the fluid buildup leads to swelling.
The chemicals are currently known to cause Sarcoma are:
- Vinyl chloride: Vinyl chloride is a chemical used in making some plastics. It is thought that exposure to vinyl chloride at work may increase the risk of sarcoma of the liver.
- Dioxins: These are produced in industries related to paper bleaching and pesticide making. People who work in these industries may be at a slightly increased risk.
- Chlorophenols: chlorophenol exposure independent of phenoxy herbicides (used for weed control) may increase the risk of soft tissue sarcoma.
- Arsenic: Arsenic is linked specifically to liver sarcoma, there has been no correlation between arsenic and sarcoma cancer in other areas of the body.
What are the symptoms of Sarcoma?
A lump or mass is the most common soft tissue sarcoma sign. The lump will form in the area in which the tumor is growing, and there may be some pain if it is pressing on a nerve or muscle.
Even if the lump isn’t painful, if it continues to grow in size, or if it is located deep within an extremity or body cavity, consult your doctor.
Uncomfortable swelling is another sign of soft tissue sarcoma, especially when it is located in the arms and legs.
Limited mobility can be a symptom of soft tissue sarcoma. Some tumors can restrict motion, such as those found in the hip, knee, shoulder, or hands. Skin lesions can occur when a sarcoma tumor breaks through the skin.
How is sarcoma detected?
Some tests, such as computed tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, are often done to look for the cause of symptoms and to find a tumor (such as a sarcoma). Other tests may be done after a sarcoma is diagnosed to look for cancer spread.
People who have a strong family history of sarcomas or who have had other cancers when they were young, might wish to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of genetic testing with their doctor.
The test results should always be explained by a genetic counselor or a specially trained doctor who can interpret the results and advise high-risk patients about the need for early cancer detection tests.
No screening tests and exams are recommended for people who have no family history of sarcoma or other sarcoma risk factors. For these people, the best approach to early detection is to tell their healthcare professional about any unexplained lumps or growths or other symptoms that may be caused by a soft tissue sarcoma.
What organizations help with Sarcoma?
In the USA, there are several organizations focused on the research of Sarcoma, giving treatment to patients as well as support and education among them:
The Sarcoma Alliance strives to improve the lives of people affected by sarcoma through accurate diagnosis, improved access to care, guidance, education, and support.
It offers an extensive website and a peer-to-peer program. Sarcoma Alliance refers patients to sarcoma centers throughout the United States and through their assistance fund provide financial support to those seeking second opinions from sarcoma specialists.
Sarcoma Foundation of America
The mission of the Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA), based in Maryland, is to advocate for sarcoma patients by funding research and increasing awareness about the disease.
The organization raises money to privately fund grants for sarcoma researchers and conducts education and advocacy efforts on behalf of sarcoma patients.
Its website has significant information on patient resources and research funding, along with a sarcoma patient registry.
Sarcoma Alliance for Research through Collaboration is a non-profit organization, based in Michigan, dedicated to the development and support of research for the prevention, treatment, and cure of sarcomas. Clinical trials are available on their website.