What is Sarcoma
Sarcoma is a general term for a broad group of cancers that begin in the bones and in the soft tissues (also called connective tissue or connective tissue sarcoma). Sarcomas form in the tissues that connect, support and surround other body structures. Some sarcomas spread to other parts of the body where they interfere with the normal movement of blood and oxygen through the circulatory system. In others, they block blood vessels supplying vital organs such as the heart and lungs.
Types of sarcomas
There are many types of sarcomas in human beings. Sarcomas are a group of cancers that develop in the tissues, especially in connective tissues, including bone, muscle and blood vessels. They can occur anywhere in the body but are most common in the limbs and pelvis.
Sarcoma is a general term for any malignant tumor made up of connective tissue cells or fibroblasts that invade through or under the basement membrane (the lining of the body). The term sarcoma is derived from the Greek word sarx, ‘flesh’, and from makos, ‘growth’. Sarcoma literally means ‘malignant growth’.
Sarcoma occurs when cells grow without regard to their normal boundaries. It can occur anywhere in the body but is more commonly found in soft tissue such as muscle or bone than other organs such as the brain or heart. The most common sarcomas are osteosarcoma (bone cancer), malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNSTs) and malignant liposarcomas.
Causes and risk factors
Sarcomas are a group of over 100 different types of tumors. They are cancers that develop in the soft tissues and organs in your body. Although they can be any type of tumor, most sarcomas begin in muscle, fat or connective tissue.
Sarcomas have many possible causes and risk factors. Some people have a higher risk of developing sarcoma than others because of their genetics or family history.
In addition to genetics, certain infections like hepatitis B and C, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and human papillomavirus (HPV) can increase the risk for sarcoma. Other risk factors include:
Signs and symptoms
Sarcoma may cause no symptoms in the early stages. As the disease grows, however, it may cause swelling or pain if it presses on nearby organs. Sarcomas can also cause a rash or redness of the skin.
In some cases, a sarcoma can press on nerves or blood vessels near the tumor site, causing severe pain and other symptoms such as numbness or weakness on one side of the body.
People who have sarcoma often have symptoms that are similar to other types of cancer. So if you have any of these symptoms and your doctor is not sure what type of cancer you have, ask for a diagnosis by using our Find a Doctor tool.
The diagnosis of sarcoma is most often made based on the nature of the tumor and its location, as well as from your family history. In rare cases, a person may have no symptoms or signs at all. If this is the case, it’s important to have a thorough medical history and physical examination done by a doctor.
Your doctor will take a detailed history of your medical and family history, including questions about your risk factors for sarcoma. He or she may also order tests to look for genetic mutations that may increase your risk of developing sarcoma. The results of these tests will help determine whether you should be screened for other types of cancer, such as lung cancer or colon cancer.
If you have pain in your arm, leg, or chest, see your doctor right away. A sarcoma may not cause any symptoms at first. But even when pain starts, it can happen many months before other symptoms appear. Get medical care for a sarcoma as soon as possible. New treatments are being developed all the time.
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