Sarcoma is a type of cancer that can appear in different places in your body. It is the general term for a large group of cancers that start in bone and soft tissue. Soft tissue sarcoma forms in the tissues that connect, support and surround other structures in the body. This includes muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons, and the lining of joints. There are over 70 types of sarcomas. Treatment for sarcomas varies depending on the type of sarcoma, its location, and other factors.

Symptoms of a sarcoma

Signs and symptoms of sarcoma include the following

– A mass that can be felt through the skin and may or may not be painful
– Bone pain
– A broken bone that occurs unexpectedly, such as a minor injury or no injury at all
– Abdominal pain
– Weightloss

Causes of a sarcoma

The cause of most sarcomas is unclear. In general, cancer forms when changes (mutations) occur in the DNA of cells. The DNA inside a cell is grouped into a large number of individual genes, each of which contains a set of instructions telling the cell what functions to perform, as well as how to grow and divide into. Mutations can tell cells to grow and divide out of control and continue to live when normal cells would die. If this happens, the abnormal cells that accumulate can form a tumour. Cells can break off and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Risk factors for developing sarcoma

Factors that may increase the risk of sarcoma include:

– Hereditary syndromes

Some syndromes that increase the risk of cancer can be passed from parents to children. Examples of syndromes that increase the risk of sarcoma include familial retinoblastoma and neurofibromatosis type 1.

– Radiotherapy for cancer

Radiation therapy for cancer increases the risk of developing sarcoma later.

– Chronic swelling (lymphedema)

Lymphedema is swelling caused by a back-up of lymphatic fluid that occurs when the lymphatic system is blocked or damaged. It increases the risk of developing a type of sarcoma called angiosarcoma.

– Exposure to chemicals

Certain chemicals, such as certain industrial chemicals and herbicides, can increase the risk of sarcoma which affects the liver.

– Exposure to viruses

Papilloma virus can increase the risk of a type of sarcoma called Kaposi’s sarcoma in people with weakened immune systems.

Diagnosis of a sarcoma

Tests and procedures used to diagnose sarcomas and determine their extent (stage) include

– A physical examination

Your doctor will likely do a physical exam to better understand your symptoms and look for other clues that will help you make your diagnosis.

– Imaging tests

The imaging tests that are best for you will depend on your situation. Some tests, such as X-rays, are more suited to detecting bone problems. Others, like MRI, can better see connective tissue problems. Other imaging tests may include ultrasound, computed tomography, bone scans, and positron emission tomography (PET).

– Removal of a tissue sample for testing (biopsy)

A biopsy is a procedure that involves removing a piece of suspicious tissue for testing in the laboratory. Sophisticated laboratory tests can determine whether the cells are cancerous and what type of cancer they represent. The tests can also reveal useful information for choosing the best treatments.
Once your doctor determines that you have sarcoma, they may recommend additional tests to look for signs that the cancer has spread.


Fourth edition of the WHO classification of soft tissue tumors

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