This month’s awareness article is about sarcoma. Sarcoma is a type of cancer that can be located in several different spots in your body. The term sarcoma is a general term for many different types of cancers. Sarcoma is divided into two main groups: bone sarcomas and soft-tissue sarcomas. About 13,000 people will be diagnosed with sarcoma this year, and those diagnoses will be almost evenly split between men and women. There are over 70 different types of sarcoma that can develop in the body, and the treatment for it differs with each type and where it is located in the body. Sarcoma is a very rare form of cancer, records averaging less than 200,000 cases per year in the United States.
Although there are many different types of sarcoma, there are similar symptoms that come along with cancer. Signs and symptoms of cancer may include but are not limited to: a lump that can be felt through the skin that may or may not be painful, bone pain, abdominal pain, weight loss, or a broken bone that happens unexpectedly with minor injury or perhaps no injury at all.
Scientists and researchers are unclear as to what causes sarcomas. Typical to most cancers, it is most likely formed when the DNA is mutated in the cells of the body.
Sarcoma can come with several risk factors. The five factors that can influence sarcoma are inherited syndromes, radiation therapy, lymphedema, exposure to chemicals, and exposure to viruses. Inherited syndromes that can be passed from parent to child can influence sarcomas, such as familial retinoblastoma and neurofibromatosis. Radiation treatment for cancer increases the risk of developing a sarcoma later. Lymphedema is a chronic swelling that occurs in the lymph system where there is a backup of fluid or the system is damaged. This swelling increases the risk of developing a type of sarcoma specifically called angiosarcoma.
Certain chemicals that the body is exposed to, such as phenoxyacetic acid that is in herbicides or chlorophenols that are in some wood preservatives can increase the risk of sarcoma, specifically a type of sarcoma that affects the liver. Exposure to certain viruses, such as the human herpesvirus 8 can increase the risk of sarcoma, specifically Kaposi's sarcoma, in people who have weakened immune systems.
Sarcoma is most often found in the extremities being the arms and legs, which is where most of the connective tissues in your body are found, however, it can form anywhere. Sarcoma is more likely to affect children and young adults rather than older people. More than half of the people who get diagnosed with sarcoma are under the age of sixty. Bone and joint cancer is most frequently diagnosed with the younger population while soft tissue sarcomas are diagnosed more often with older people, usually affecting those who are over the age of 55.
Studies have shown that genetic alterations may heavily affect the development of sarcomas and similarly shown that some families even have several people within a generation to develop sarcomas. This leads scientists to believe that sarcoma may be an inherited trait from family history. However, in most cases, sarcoma appears completely randomly and has no accordance with that person’s familial traits.
Sarcomas are sometimes difficult to distinguish from many other cancers when it is inside the body, so most often a surgical biopsy is needed when diagnosing a sarcoma. During these procedures, a doctor makes an incision or uses a special needle to remove a small section of sample tissue to be biopsied and examined under a microscope. Once determined if cancerous or not, a pathologist can determine what type of cancer it is and what grade. Low-grade sarcomas, while cancerous, are unlikely to metastasize (meaning spread to other spots in the body). High-grade sarcomas are much more likely to spread to other areas of the body, especially if not treated when found. The five-year survival rate for soft-tissue sarcomas is 50 percent, while for bone sarcomas the survival rate is 66 percent.
Treatment for sarcomas depends on the stage the cancer is in. The stage of the sarcoma is based on the grade and size of cancer, as well as if it has metastasized. More often than not sarcomas must be removed through surgery. The doctor will remove as much tissue as possible and then, if there is still diseased tissue left, the patient undergoes chemotherapy or radiation therapy to remove the rest of cancer. Doctors are still looking and researching ways to better treat and make it easier for those with sarcoma.
As HOSA members, we want to encourage you to help spread awareness for sarcoma! If you can, take a moment to share a message with friends, family, or even social media about sarcoma and its effects. You can also take part in the Race to Cure Sarcoma series, organized by the Sarcoma Foundation of America. This is a series of 5K runs/walks held in cities across the nation to help gather funds for research and treatment of sarcoma.
Take a moment to think about those affected by sarcoma and how you can involve yourself and provide information to others by helping spread the word!