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Return to Sarcoma (Soft Tissue and Bone Cancer) Overview

More on Sarcoma (Soft Tissue and Bone Cancer)

Cancer (Oncology)

Sarcoma (Soft Tissue and Bone Cancer)

The term sarcoma refers to a variety of cancers that develop from bone or soft tissues, like fat, muscle, nerves, fibrous tissues, blood vessels, or deep skin tissues. Sarcomas are extremely rare, accounting for less than 1% of all cancers and comprise approximately 100 different types of distinct cancers. Specialized care by experts focused exclusively on sarcoma treatment is essential - as each sarcoma type is treated differently.

At NewYork-Presbyterian, patients who receive treatment for sarcoma are cared for by a multi-disciplinary team that meet weekly to provide patients with highly personalized care plans. We work with patients and their physicians to provide the best care possible including offering participation in clinical trials and second opinions.

Types of Sarcomas

  • Angiosarcoma - blood or lymphatic vessels
  • Chrondrosarcoma - cartilage tissue
  • Ewing's sarcoma - cells of primitive nerve epithelial tissues
  • Fibrosarcoma- fibrous tissue that forms tendons and ligaments
  • Kaposi's sarcoma - blood vessels and supporting cells
  • Leiomyosarcoma - smooth muscle (involuntary) cells
  • Liposarcoma - fat cells and tissue
  • Malignant fibrous histocytoma - most common soft tissue tumor found in arms or legs of adults
  • Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor, sometimes called neurofibrosarcoma, malignant Schwannoma or neurogentic sarcoma - cells that support and protect nerve cells
  • Multiple myeloma - plasma cells, cells that make antibodies
  • Osteosarcoma - bone-forming cells
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma - skeletal muscle
  • Synovial sarcoma - connective tissue cells near a joint

Risk Factors

Most sarcomas develop in people with no known risk factors. Radiation exposure from cancer treatment is suspected to be a risk for sarcoma, but those patients make up fewer than five percent of all sarcoma cases. Exposure to harmful chemicals may play a role, but there is no definitive evidence. Injury is not a risk factor. Inherited DNA mutations such as the ones that cause neurofibromatosis, retinoblastoma and other rare conditions may play a role, but most DNA mutations in soft tissue sarcoma are acquired during a person's life span and are not hereditary.

Symptoms

The majority of sarcomas begin in an arm or leg and usually present with a lump (not always painful) that grows slowly over several weeks or months. Abdominal sarcomas, which account for roughly 20 percent of sarcomas, can cause blockage or bleeding in the stomach or bowels. Blood in the stool or vomit or black, tarry stools can also be warning signs. Only about 50 percent of soft tissue sarcomas are found in the early stages, before they have spread. It is important to see a doctor immediately if any of those symptoms are present.

Prevention and Treatment

Because there are few known risk factors, sarcoma is difficult to prevent. If sarcoma is suspected, doctors will likely perform a fine needle aspiration or a core needle biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. Surgery is the typical treatment for sarcoma, although that is not always possible if the tumor is near vital organs. Sometimes radiation, chemotherapy, or both methods will precede the surgery in an effort to shrink the tumor. Radiation may also be used post-surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

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