The term sarcoma refers to a variety of cancers that develop from bone or soft tissues, like fat, muscle, nerves, fibrous tissues, blood vessels, or deep skin tissues. Sarcomas are extremely rare, accounting for less than 1% of all cancers and comprise approximately 100 different types of distinct cancers. Specialized care by experts focused exclusively on sarcoma treatment is essential - as each sarcoma type is treated differently.
At NewYork-Presbyterian, patients who receive treatment for sarcoma are cared for by a multi-disciplinary team that meet weekly to provide patients with highly personalized care plans. We work with patients and their physicians to provide the best care possible including offering participation in clinical trials and second opinions.
Most sarcomas develop in people with no known risk factors. Radiation exposure from cancer treatment is suspected to be a risk for sarcoma, but those patients make up fewer than five percent of all sarcoma cases. Exposure to harmful chemicals may play a role, but there is no definitive evidence. Injury is not a risk factor. Inherited DNA mutations such as the ones that cause neurofibromatosis, retinoblastoma and other rare conditions may play a role, but most DNA mutations in soft tissue sarcoma are acquired during a person's life span and are not hereditary.
The majority of sarcomas begin in an arm or leg and usually present with a lump (not always painful) that grows slowly over several weeks or months. Abdominal sarcomas, which account for roughly 20 percent of sarcomas, can cause blockage or bleeding in the stomach or bowels. Blood in the stool or vomit or black, tarry stools can also be warning signs. Only about 50 percent of soft tissue sarcomas are found in the early stages, before they have spread. It is important to see a doctor immediately if any of those symptoms are present.
Because there are few known risk factors, sarcoma is difficult to prevent. If sarcoma is suspected, doctors will likely perform a fine needle aspiration or a core needle biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. Surgery is the typical treatment for sarcoma, although that is not always possible if the tumor is near vital organs. Sometimes radiation, chemotherapy, or both methods will precede the surgery in an effort to shrink the tumor. Radiation may also be used post-surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.