A sarcoma is a very rare type of cancer that develop within the connective tissues of the body, most often within muscles, tendons, nerves, fat cells, cartilage, blood vessels, and bones. Sarcomas tend to develop as either immature bone cancers or soft tissue tumors, which may form a painless lump. However, many tumors are not detectable until they progress in size and begin to interfere with other organs or body functions. For instance, a large sarcoma may press against a muscle or nerve, creating pain and discomfort, or even breathing difficulties.
Research from the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program, indicates that an estimated 12,000 Americans are diagnosed with sarcoma annually. However, this type of cancer is considered more prevalent among children compared to adults.
While sarcomas exist in over 50 different types, they are often classified as either:
1. Osteosarcomas, which make up about 1,000 new U.S. diagnosis per year, and are considered the most prevalent type of bone cancer. Osteosarcomas develop as immature bones, typically at the end of a long bone (i.e., knee) in patients typically under 25-years of age. Symptoms of osteosarcoma include:
- Limping (with leg osteosarcomas)
- Inflammation that gets progressively worse
- Radiating pain in the affected area, particularly at night
2. Soft tissue sarcoma
Soft tissue sarcoma encompassies roughly 12,000 cases of soft tissue sarcoma per year. These soft tissue like tumors grow within the body’s connective tissues (i.e., muscles, cartilage, blood vessels, fat cells, nerves, and tendons) as soft lumps that may grow and lead to discomfort. Symptoms may include:
- Bloody vomit or stool, or black tarry bowel movements
- A new, growing lump
- Abdominal pain that progressively worsens
- Breathing difficulties
While the exact cause of sarcomas are still largely unknown, medical professionals attribute the following common risk factors to both soft tissue and osteosarcoma development:
- Patients previously exposed to radiation (i.e., cancer treatment).
- A history of genetic disorders (i.e., Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Gardner syndrome, neurofibromatosis, or retinoblastoma).
- Patients that also have Paget’s disease, which causes fragile and abnormal bone growth.
- A known family history of sarcoma.