A sarcoma is a rare kind of cancer. Sarcomas are different from the much more common carcinomas because they happen in a different kind 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 happen anywhere.
Although there are more than 50 types of sarcoma, they can be grouped into two main kinds: soft tissue sarcoma and bone sarcoma, or osteosarcoma. About 1 out of 100 cases of adult cancers is soft tissue sarcoma. Osteosarcomas are even rarer.
Sarcomas can be treated, often by having surgery to remove the tumor.
Sarcoma Risk Factors
We don't yet know what causes sarcoma, but we do know some things that raise your risk of getting one.
- Other people in your family have had sarcoma.
- You have a bone disorder called Paget's disease.
- You have a genetic disorder such as neurofibromatosis, Gardner syndrome, retinoblastoma, or Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
- You're been exposed to radiation, perhaps during treatment for an earlier cancer.
Soft tissue sarcomas are hard to spot because they can grow anywhere in your body. Most often, the first sign is a painless lump. As the lump gets bigger, it might press against nerves or muscles and make you uncomfortable or give you trouble breathing, or both. There are no tests that can find these tumors before they cause symptoms that you notice.
Osteosarcoma has more obvious early symptoms, including:
- Pain off and on in the affected bone, which may be worse at night
- Swelling, which often starts weeks after the pain
- A limp, if the sarcoma is in your leg
Children and young adults get osteosarcoma more often than adults. And because healthy, active children and teens often have pain and swelling in their arms and legs, osteosarcoma might be mistaken for growing pains or a sports injury. If your child's pain doesn't get better, gets worse at night, and is in one arm or leg rather than both, talk to a doctor.
Adults who have this kind of pain should see a doctor right away.
If your doctor thinks you may have a sarcoma, you'll probably need a full exam and tests, including:
- A sample of cells from the tumor, called a biopsy
- Imaging tests, such as a CT scan, an ultrasound, or an MRI, to help see inside your body
- A bone scan, if you might have osteosarcoma
How your sarcoma is treated depends on what type you have, where in your body it is, how developed it is, and whether or not it has spread to other parts of your body, or metastasized.