Everything you need to know about sarcoma

July 06, 2016 | by Samir Undevia, MD

July is National Sarcoma Awareness Month. What is sarcoma, you ask? Sarcoma is a cancer that affects the connective tissues in the body, including nerves, muscles, joints, fats and bones. Sarcoma is very rare. According to the Sarcoma Alliance, sarcoma makes up approximately 1 percent of adult cancers and 15 percent of childhood cancers.

You can make a difference this month by learning symptoms and risk factors, and raising awareness of the disease.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • There are two types of sarcomas: soft tissue sarcoma and bone sarcoma (or bone cancer).

  • Since connective tissues are formed throughout our bodies, sarcomas can be found anywhere.  The American Cancer Society says more than half of sarcomas are found in the arms and legs. Depending on where sarcoma is found, there are many subtypes of sarcoma as well.

  • It is not clear why some people develop sarcoma, though researchers have been able to identify common characteristics in individuals with increased rates of developing soft tissue sarcoma including: exposure to phenoxyacetic acid in herbicides and chlorophenols in wood preservatives. Those with exposure to high radiation are also at a greater risk of developing sarcoma. Other risk factors include certain family cancers and a damaged lymph system, though most sarcomas occur in people with no risk factors.

  • Because our connective tissue is elastic, tumors can grow large before they are felt in our bodies, so soft tissue sarcoma rarely causes symptoms. With sarcoma of the bone, pain is the most common symptom. Tumors may cause pain if the tumor presses against nerves and muscles. Other symptoms may include weight loss and fatigue.

  • Soft tissue sarcoma is diagnosed through a surgical biopsy. It is then usually treated through surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Bone cancer is often diagnosed through a blood test ordered by your primary physician, an X-Ray and biopsy.

Here’s what you can do to stay ahead of the game:

Get yearly check-ups and tell your doctor if you have any unexplained lumps or changes in your health. Check for new lumps on your body or look for lumps that are getting larger over time. If you experience abdominal pain that does not improve or gets worse, contact your primary care physician. 

Find a doctor.

Learn more about cancer care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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