- What is Sarcoma Cancer?
- The Causes of Sarcoma Cancer
- Sarcoma Symptoms & Risks
- Diagnoses for Sarcoma
- Ways to Promote Sarcoma Cancer Awareness Month
- Final Thoughts
Have you ever heard of Sarcoma? Why do we have Sarcoma Awareness Month? Simply, sarcoma is still considered to be the “forgotten cancer.” Efforts to encourage research and drug development are made more challenging due to a lack of awareness and understanding. Continue reading further to learn more about the symptoms and treatments.
WHAT IS SARCOMA CANCER?
Sarcoma is a rare kind of cancer. Sarcomas are different from the much more common carcinomas because they happen in different kinds of tissue. Sarcomas grow in connective tissue — cells that connect or support other kinds of tissue in your body. These tumors are most common in the bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage, nerves, fat, and blood vessels of your arms and legs, but they can also happen in other areas of your body.
Although there are more than 50 types of sarcoma, there are two main forms: soft tissue sarcoma and bone sarcoma, or osteosarcoma. In the U.S., about 3,500 new cases of osteosarcoma were diagnosed in 2018; in 2019 there will be an estimated 12,750 new cases of soft tissue sarcoma.
THE CAUSES OF SARCOMA CANCER
Unfortunately, scientists do not fully understand why some people develop sarcomas while the vast majority do not. However, by identifying common characteristics in groups with unusually high occurrence rates, researchers have been able to single out some indicators that may play a role in causing sarcomas.
The causes behind sarcoma are unknown, but there are some known risk factors. For instance, exposure to phenoxyacetic acid in herbicides or chlorophenols in wood preservatives may increase the risk. An unusual percentage of patients with a rare blood vessel tumor, angiosarcoma of the liver, for example, have been exposed to vinyl chloride in their work. This substance is used in the manufacture of certain plastics. High doses of radiation are also known to cause sarcomas in some people, as are certain rare genetic alterations.
Studies have focused on genetic alterations that may lead to the development of sarcomas. Scientists have also found a small number of families in which more than one member in the same generation has developed sarcoma. Sarcomas within families may be related to a rare inherited genetic alteration. However, in the vast majority of cases, sarcoma is a completely random event in a family’s cancer history.
SARCOMA SYMPTOMS & RISKS
Signs and symptoms of sarcoma include:
- A lump that can be felt through the skin that may or may not be painful
- Bone pain
- A broken bone that happens unexpectedly, such as with a minor injury or no injury at all
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
We don’t yet know what causes sarcoma, but we do know some things that raise the risk of developing one. When possible, you should avoid these risk factors:
- Avoid radiation exposure. (This may not be possible for people who need radiation to treat cancer.)
- Avoid exposure to certain chemicals, especially herbicides and dioxin.
- If you or anyone in your family has had neurofibromatosis, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, retinoblastoma, or soft tissue sarcoma, you may have a slightly elevated risk of this type of cancer. Ask your doctor if you should be tested for inherited genes that might increase your risk of soft tissue sarcoma. It is important to know that there are not a lot of genetic tests to accurately predict your risk for sarcomas.
DIAGNOSIS FOR SARCOMA
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. Because sarcomas are difficult to distinguish from other cancers when they are found within organs, their occurrence is probably underestimated, according to the National Cancer Institute. In 2018, over 13,000 cases of soft tissue sarcoma and 3,400 cases of bone sarcomas are expected to be diagnosed in the United States, according to data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER).
The only reliable way to determine whether a tumor is benign or malignant is through a surgical biopsy. Therefore, all soft tissue and bone lumps that persist or grow should be biopsied. During this procedure, a doctor makes an incision or uses a special needle to remove a sample of tumor tissue, and a pathologist examines the tissue under a microscope. If cancer is present, the pathologist can usually determine the type of cancer and its grade. Low-grade sarcomas, although cancerous, are unlikely to metastasize. High-grade sarcomas are more likely to spread to other parts of the body. The five-year survival rate for soft tissue sarcomas is 50 percent, while the survival rate is 66 percent for bone sarcomas.
The Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA) estimates that about 20% of sarcoma cases are curable by surgery while another 30 percent may be effectively treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. In general, treatment for sarcomas depends on the stage of cancer. The stage of the sarcoma is based on the size and grade of the tumor, and whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body (metastasized).
- Surgery is the most common treatment for sarcomas. If possible, the doctor may remove cancer and a safe margin of the healthy tissue around it. As much of the tumor is removed as possible, and radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy are given either before the surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to kill the remaining cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy (treatment with high-dose x-rays) may be used either before surgery to shrink tumors or after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind.
- Chemotherapy (treatment with anticancer drugs) may be used with radiation therapy either before or after surgery to try to shrink the tumor or kill any remaining cancer cells. If cancer has spread to other areas of the body, chemotherapy may be used to shrink tumors and reduce the pain and discomfort they cause but is unlikely to eradicate the disease. The use of chemotherapy to prevent the spread of sarcomas has not been proven to be effective. Patients with sarcomas usually receive chemotherapy intravenously (injected into a blood vessel).
Doctors are conducting clinical trials in the hope of finding new, more effective treatments for sarcomas, and better ways to use current treatments.
WAYS TO PROMOTE SARCOMA AWARENESS
- Since sarcoma is a rare cancer, many people are unfamiliar with the disease since they have not been affected personally. This July, take a moment to share a message via social media or speak with your friends and family about this relatively unknown condition.
- Spread sarcoma awareness through social media. Use the hashtags #curesarcoma #sarcomaawarenessmonth
- Donate in honor of Sarcoma Awareness Month
- Take part in the Race to Cure Sarcoma™ race series. The Race to Cure Sarcoma run/walk series held in the United States focuses on raising awareness and research funds for sarcoma. Organized by the Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA), the Race to Cure Sarcoma™ is made up of family-friendly 5K run/walks held in cities across the nation. Last year, nearly 3,500 people participated in the Race to Cure Sarcoma™.
- Stay in touch with us on curesarcoma.org and our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram)
- The Sarcoma Foundation of America provides regular news and information about the Sarcoma community.
Sarcoma Awareness Month aims to further highlight the extraordinary challenges that sarcoma patients face, and provides information about the need for more sarcoma research and better therapies. Did you find this article helpful and informative? Have you or a loved one been or (currently) diagnosed with sarcoma? Please feel free to share your story and comments down below!