Symptoms & Causes Sarcoma
What are Sarcomas?What are Sarcomas?
Sarcomas are a form of cancer that begins in the soft tissues of the body or bones. Soft tissue sarcomas develop in soft tissues (fat, muscle, connective tissue, nerve sheaths, and blood vessels) while bone sarcomas form in bones.
Sarcoma is rare, making up for less than 1% of all types of cancer in adults and approximately 15% in children. There are about 14,000 soft tissue sarcomas and 4,000 bone sarcomas in the United States each year, compared to about 240,000 lung cancers per year.
There are over 100 different types of sarcoma. Because each type of sarcoma is treated differently, and they are often quite challenging to treat successfully. Specialized care provided by doctors with sarcoma expertise is essential.
Sarcoma vs. carcinoma
Sarcomas and carcinomas are both types of cancer. Differences between the conditions include:
- Carcinomas are the most common type of cancer
- Carcinomas begin in the tissues that secrete mucus and fluids or in the tissues that form the inner lining of organs—colon and bladder, for example
- Carcinomas are more common in adults than in children; sarcomas, while rare, occur more frequently in children than in adults
- Sarcomas are uncommon or rare
- Sarcomas begin in the soft tissues (such as fat, muscle, connective tissue, nerve sheaths, and blood vessels) or bones
Sarcomas and carcinomas do share some similarities:
- Both are malignant cancers and can spread throughout the body
- They can occur in any age group. Although, sarcomas are more prevalent in young people while carcinomas are more frequent in people over 50.
- Both sarcomas and carcinomas can often be treated with surgery
Types of SarcomasTypes
There are over 100 different subtypes of sarcoma. The most common soft tissue subtypes are:
- gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST)
- undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma
- synovial sarcoma
- malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST)
The most common bone subtypes are osteosarcoma, chondrosarcomas, and Ewing sarcoma.
Soft tissue sarcoma
Soft tissue sarcomas develop in soft tissues such as fat, muscle, connective tissue, nerve sheaths, and blood vessels. They often form in the legs or arms but can also develop in the head and neck area, trunk, internal organs, and the area in the back of the abdominal cavity.
Types of soft tissue sarcomas include:
- Undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma
- Malignant peripheral nerve sheath
- Rhabdomyosarcoma (RHS)
- Synovial sarcoma
- Solitary fibrous tumors
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumor
- Kaposi's sarcoma
Bone sarcomas, such as osteosarcomas, form in the bones and are less common than soft tissue sarcomas. Types of bone sarcomas can include:
- Osteosarcoma typically forms in the long bones of the legs or arms but can develop in any bone
- Chondrosarcoma commonly begins as tumors in the cartilage
- Ewing's sarcoma can present in the bone of the thigh, pelvis, ribs, or upper arm. This form of cancer is more commonly found in children.
Stages of SarcomaStages
Sarcomas are traditionally categorized into four stages (I-IV). The cancer stage depends on the tumor size and how far it has spread (metastasized) throughout the body.
There are also variations in the staging methods for different types of sarcomas, depending on where they first appeared in the body.
Sarcomas can also be graded from G1 to G3. Higher-grade sarcomas are more likely to grow and spread more aggressively.
Staging for extremity and trunk sarcomas is as follows:
- Stage IA: A singular tumor (less than 5 cm in size) is confined to a small area. The cancer hasn't spread to the lymph nodes or other cells and is assessed as grade 1.
- Stage IB: The tumor is bigger than 5 cm, hasn't spread to the lymph nodes or other cells, and is assessed as grade 1
- Stage IIA: The tumor is not bigger than 5 cm. It has not spread to the lymph nodes or other cells but is assessed as grade 2 or 3.
- Stage IIB: The tumor has grown larger than 5 cm. It has not spread to the lymph nodes or other cells but is assessed as grade 2.
- Stage IIIA: The tumor has grown larger than 5 cm. It has not spread to the lymph nodes or other cells but is assessed as grade 3.
- Stage IIIB: The tumor has no particular size or grade and has spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to other body parts
- Stage IV: The tumor is no particular size or grade and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes but has spread to other sites in the body
Signs & Symptoms of SarcomaSymptoms
There is a wide range of sarcoma symptoms. The most common symptoms of some forms of sarcomas include:
- A painless lump under the skin
- Abdominal pain or an abdominal mass
- Bone pain
- An unexpected bone break, either from a minor or unknown injury
- Difficulty breathing or chest pain
What Causes Sarcoma?Causes
There are no specific known causes for the vast majority of sarcomas. Cancer develops when mutations occur in the DNA of healthy cells, causing them to divide, grow, and spread. These abnormal cells can form tumors which can later metastasize throughout the body.
Risk FactorsRisk Factors
While anyone at any age can develop a sarcoma, there are underlying risk factors that can increase your chances of developing the condition, including:
- Radiation therapy treatment - Cancer patients who previously have had radiation therapy can be at higher risk for developing sarcomas
- Frequent exposure to toxic chemicals - Particularly herbicides and other industrial chemicals
- Family history - If close family members have been diagnosed with sarcomas, your chances of developing it are higher
Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Sarcoma Care
At NewYork-Presbyterian our doctors and oncologists are experts in recognizing sarcoma symptoms and developing a customized treatment plan for you.
If you suspect you have sarcoma symptoms or have underlying risk factors for developing the condition, contact one of our cancer professionals for a consultation.