Diseases & Conditions


What is Sarcoma?

Sarcoma is a rare type of cancer in which tumors develop in the connective tissues, such as muscle, fat, nerves, blood vessels, and in tissue which surrounds our joints and bones.

Sarcoma usually develops in the legs, feet and ankles and chest wall and abdomen. Less commonly, it can develop in the shoulders, hands, wrists and arms, and the head and neck.

There are many different subtypes of sarcoma, but the most common include:

Bone sarcomas: This is a type of cancer that either begins in the bone (primary bone sarcoma) or has started in another location and spread to the bone (metastatic bone cancer).

Primary bone sarcomas include:

  • Osteosarcoma (the most common type)
  • Ewing’s sarcoma
  • Fibrosarcoma
  • Chondrosarcoma
  • Chordoma.

Soft tissue sarcomas: These are cancers that begin in the muscle or connective tissues, and include:

  • Angiosarcoma.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST)
  • Desmoplastic small round cell tumors
  • Liposarcoma
  • Leiomyosarcoma
  • Myxofibrosarcoma
  • Synovial sarcoma
  • Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma
  • Malignant schwannoma
  • Undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma.

Soft tissue sarcomas are usually diagnosed in adults, while bone sarcomas are often diagnosed in children and adolescents, or those over the age of 65.

What are the Symptoms of Sarcoma?

The symptoms of sarcoma will vary depending on where the tumor is located. Some may cause a painless lump that isn’t noticed until the lump grows and begins pressing on an organ.

Symptoms of sarcoma can include:

  • A lump that does or does not hurt
  • Weight loss that is unexplained
  • Back pain
  • Pain in the arms or legs
  • Pain in the abdomen or pelvis
  • Problems moving your arms or legs.

What are the Causes of Sarcomas?

Sarcomas develop when the DNA of soft tissue or bone cells changes, and they become cancerous. These cells then grow and multiply in an unregulated way, often forming a tumor. If the cancer isn’t treated, it can spread to other organs.

Doctors aren’t sure of the exact cause of sarcoma, but they know that there are certain factors that may increase your risk of developing the disease:

Risk factors for sarcoma include:

  • Exposure to chemicals: If you have been exposed to arsenic, the chemicals that are used in the process of making plastic, wood preservatives or herbicides, then you may be at an increased risk.
  • Lymphedema: Swelling in the arms or legs over a long period of time.
  • Radiation: Previous radiation therapy for cancer.
  • Genetic conditions: Inherited disorders or chromosomal abnormalities.

How is Sarcoma Diagnosed?

Your doctor will take a full medical history, discuss your symptoms with you in detail, and perform a physical exam. They may order tests to confirm a diagnosis, which might include:

  • Bone scan: A small amount of radioactive substance is injected which can help identify done conditions, including sarcoma.
  • Biopsy: To remove a small sample of tissue for examination in a lab.
  • Imaging tests: Including X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

How is Sarcoma Treated?

Treatment for sarcoma will depend on the type you have, its location, and whether it has spread. Treatment options include:

  • Surgery: The surgeon aims to remove the cancer whilst preserving as much healthy tissue as possible. When needed, the affected area must be rebuilt, which may involve using metal joint replacements or replacing bone with bone from another part of the body.
  • Chemotherapy: Medication is given which kills cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: High doses of radiation energy are targeted at the cancer to kill it or to stop it from growing. Internal radiation (called brachytherapy) can be used to treat sarcomas which haven’t spread. This can be delivered during surgery or via a series of catheters after surgery.
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment uses your body’s own immune system to fight the cancer, by causing the body to produce more cancer-fighting cells or by helping normal cells to identify and kill cancer cells.
  • Thermal ablation: Sarcomas can sometimes be destroyed using heat or by freezing them.

There are many different types of sarcoma, with many different symptoms and treatment options. If you are concerned about sarcoma, talk to the team at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Click here to learn more.

© Copyright 2017 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala Healthcare, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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