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Sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that can appear anywhere in the body

What is Sarcoma?

Rare oncological disease

A sarcoma is an aggressive cancerous growth originating in either bone or soft tissue. Sarcomas are uncommon, representing only 1% of all adult cancer cases and approximately 15% of childhood cancer cases. There are more than 100 types.

  • 40% originate in the lower extremities (legs, ankles, feet).
  • 15% originate in the upper extremities (shoulders, arms, wrists, hands).
  • 30% originate in the trunk, chest wall, abdomen, or pelvis.
  • 15% originate in the head and neck.

Sarcoma impacts individuals across various age groups. Typically, soft tissue sarcoma is more prevalent among adults, while bone sarcoma diagnoses are more common among children.

More Information & FAQ


Symptoms and causes

Sarcomas arise when immature bone or soft tissue cells undergo DNA alterations, leading to the development of cancer cells that proliferate uncontrollably.

Over time, they can create a lump or growth that can spread to nearby tissues. If not treated, the cancer can spread through your blood or lymphatic system to other parts of your body (metastasis), which is hard to treat. Just like with other cancers, scientists aren’t sure what triggers a healthy cell to turn into sarcoma.

What are the risk factors associated with sarcoma?

Certain factors may raise your risk of developing sarcoma. Risk factors include:

  • Exposure to chemicals – Exposure to arsenic and certain chemicals used to make plastics (vinyl chloride monomer), herbicides (phenoxyacetic acid) and wood preservatives (chlorophenols).
  • Radiation
  • Lymphedema
  • Genetic conditions

What are the signs of sarcoma?

Symptoms differ based on where the tumor is situated. For instance, some sarcomas may not exhibit noticeable symptoms initially. Certain sarcomas might manifest as painless lumps beneath the skin, while others may not cause discomfort until they reach a size that presses against an organ.

Other sarcomas may induce persistent bone pain or swelling in the limbs, particularly worsening during nighttime. These alterations could restrict movement.

Symptoms may include:

  • A new lump that may or may not hurt.
  • Pain in an extremity (arm/leg) or the abdomen/pelvis.
  • Trouble moving your arm or leg (a limp or limited range of motion).
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Back pain.

How do doctors diagnose sarcoma?

  • X-ray
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Bone scan
  • PET scan
  • Biopsy

Doctors use cancer staging to understand how serious sarcoma is and which treatments might be best. They often classify sarcoma using the TNM system.

  • T: Describes the size and location of the primary tumor.
  • N: Describes whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • M: Describes whether the cancer has spread to other organs (metastasized).

Doctors use this data to determine the stage of your sarcoma, assigning a number (1 through 4). The higher the number, the more the cancer has either grown in the local area or spread to other parts of your body.

Each type of sarcoma has its own staging criteria. Talk to your doctor about your cancer stage to understand how it affects your treatment.

What is the survival rate of sarcoma?

For soft tissue sarcoma, the five-year survival rate varies from 15% if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, to 81% if it hasn’t spread. In osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer, the five-year survival rate ranges from 26% if the cancer has spread, to 77% if it hasn’t.

These numbers aren’t applicable for every sarcoma. The prognosis depends on things like the type of sarcoma, where it is, overall health, how the patient responds to treatment, and more.

What are the types of sarcoma?

Types of primary bone sarcoma include:

  • Osteosarcoma (most common)
  • Chondrosarcoma
  • Chordoma
  • Ewing’s sarcoma
  • Fibrosarcoma

Types of soft tissue sarcomas include: