Understanding Sarcoma

Statistically, about 1.9 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021. Among these cases, we expect only a little more than 13,000 to be soft tissue cancers. Few Americans are familiar with the term sarcoma because only a tiny percentage of overall cancer cases are associated with bone and soft tissue cancer.

We want to shine a spotlight on it, particularly during Men’s Health Month, because male patients with a sarcoma diagnosis will outnumber women by nearly 15 percent. A higher number of men are expected to develop primary bone sarcoma than women, as well.

What is Sarcoma?

Sarcomas are a rare form of cancer characterized by malignant tumors located in tissues such as bones, muscles, fat, cartilage, nerves or blood vessels. Osteosarcoma or bone cancer is more commonly observed in children (it accounts for about 20 percent of all cancer cases in children), whereas soft tissue sarcoma is more common in adults.

According to the American Cancer Society, most sarcomas start in the limbs since most of our body’s connective tissues are located there. However, it can also occur in areas such as the torso, head or neck.

Risk Factors for Developing Sarcoma

The causes and localization of these malignancies are yet to be explained; however, certain risk factors for sarcoma development have been clinically identified.

According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Johns Hopkins Medicine, they include:

  • Aging
  • Exposure to chemicals such as dioxins and vinyl chloride (a substance used to make plastics)
  • Long-term swelling
  • Inherited genetic disorders:
  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Gardner Syndrome
  • Li-Fraumeni Syndrome
  • Retinoblastoma
  • Previous radiation therapy

Sarcoma Prevention

Unfortunately, not much is known about preventing soft tissue and bone sarcomas other than possibly avoiding risk factors at all costs. There are instances of healthy individuals or people with no known risk factors developing sarcoma, so further research is needed.

Sarcoma Treatment

The success rate in treating this cancer is heavily influenced by the tumor’s characteristics (size, stage, grade, possibility of metastasis), the patient’s physical state and age and the type of sarcoma. Sarcomas found at an early stage have better chances of being effectively treated.

However, detecting sarcomas can be quite challenging due to their location in deep areas of tissue and bone. This is why it is imperative to understand and pay attention to the early warning signs, such as the presence of lumps or swelling. The lumps don’t even have to be painful. If you’ve been experiencing an unexplainable fever, stiffness in the joints, pain or pressure in the affected area, seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

If you’re diagnosed with sarcoma, possible treatments include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Generally, surgery alone can cure sarcomas about 20 percent of the time. In conjunction with radiation and or chemotherapy, the success rate increases to 50-55 percent. Radiation therapy for primary tumors before or after invasive surgery is common as it reduces the risk of recurrence of second cancer.

Many variables impact the treatment’s effectiveness, and many times, sarcomas are resistant to traditional medical methods. This emphasizes the need for new and innovative approaches and noninvasive therapies for this kind of cancer.

Thankfully, here at Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology (TBRO), we have a team of experts to design treatment plans for each of our cancer patients specifically. Each year, more than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.