Sarcoma is sometimes called a "forgotten cancer" because it's rare. It doesn't have the same amount of public awareness that other types of cancers have. Sarcoma affects the body's connective tissues, which includes bones and soft tissues.
Patients and their loved ones may struggle to find adequate information about the disease. To help spread awareness, July has been designated as Sarcoma Awareness Month.
Soft Tissue Sarcomas
The most common type of sarcoma diagnoses are for soft tissue sarcoma. Soft tissues include muscles, fat, blood vessels, tendons, and synovial tissues around joints. Soft tissue sarcoma is more common in certain parts of the body than others:
- The majority of soft tissue sarcomas, around 40%, affect the knee joint
- Another 30% develops in the shoulders, chest, abdomen, or hips
- Hands and arms account for 15% of diagnoses
- Head and neck account for another 15% of soft tissue sarcoma cases
Early on, soft tissue sarcoma tumors can be hard to detect. The first sign for many is a painless lump that becomes painful as the tumor grows.
The soft tissues in the body are by nature very elastic, so a tumor can grow to be quite large before it is discovered. Sometimes, the sarcoma can spread to surrounding tissues in the body, and a secondary tumor can form.
Causes of Soft Tissue Sarcoma
The causes of soft tissue sarcomas remain largely unknown. There are some circumstances that increase a person's risk:
- Exposure to certain herbicides, wood preservatives, and large doses of radiation.
- Researchers have also found that certain genetic mutations may increase a person's risk.
- People with the genetic disorder neurofibromatosis have an increased risk of developing sarcoma.
- Slightly more men than women are diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma.
Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatments
Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of the three can be used to treat soft tissue sarcoma. Biological therapies for sarcoma are currently available and are also an area of research. These therapies are also called immunotherapy and help the patient's immune system attack the sarcoma.
Bone sarcomas are much rarer than soft tissue sarcomas. Slightly more men than women are diagnosed with bone sarcomas. The most common type of bone sarcoma, osteosarcoma, primarily affects children.
Pain, swelling, and tenderness are common symptoms of bone sarcomas. Anemia, weight loss, and fatigue may also be present. If a tumor is weakening a bone, there may be fractures.
Causes of Bone Sarcomas
Like soft tissue sarcomas, the causes of bone sarcomas are mostly unknown. Previous radiation and chemotherapy treatments may increase the risk of developing bone sarcomas in children and young adults. Adults who have Paget's disease seem to have an increased risk of developing bone sarcoma.
Bone Sarcoma Treatments
Only a biopsy can definitively diagnose bone sarcomas. However, blood tests, X-rays, MRIs or other diagnostic tests may be conducted beforehand to rule out other conditions.
Treatment for bone sarcoma can include:
- Surgery to remove the tumor
- Samarium, a radioactive drug therapy
- Target therapy, which is drugs that attack specific cancer cells
Sarcoma Treatment Options in Portland, OR
In all cases, see your general practitioner or an orthopedic specialist first if you have lumps that don't go away or pain in your bones or connective tissues. From there, they will perform tests to determine if it's sarcoma.
After a sarcoma diagnosis, you would be referred to cancer specialists like those at Compass Oncology in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. At Compass Oncology, we are uniquely positioned to provide the best possible care to sarcoma patients.
We create personalized treatment plans for every patient, including groundbreaking clinical trials when appropriate. Compass Oncology's patient-focused care treats the whole person, mind, and body.
We have several locations in the Portland and Vancouver area. Please contact us for more information about sarcoma treatment options.