About Sarcoma

Sarcomas are rare cancers that begin in bone and soft tissues like muscle, fat tissue, blood vessels, and nervous tissues. Sarcomas that develop in soft tissues are called soft tissue sarcomas, while those that begin in the bone are called osteosarcoma. While bone sarcomas are more common in children, soft tissue sarcomas are more likely to occur in adults. Sarcoma treatment options depend upon the location of cancer, its type, stage and extent of spread. Sarcomas can begin anywhere in the body, but over 60% start in the arm, 30% in the abdomen, and only 10% occur in the head and neck region. Sarcoma life expectancy depends upon several factors, but the average five-year survival rate is around 65%. Advanced stages of sarcoma are challenging to treat and have lower survival rates.

Symptoms

Sarcoma symptoms depend upon the location of the cancer and its stage. Early-stage sarcomas are small and usually do not cause any symptoms. As the tumour grows in size, they press on neighbouring vital structures like nerves and blood vessels, causing the symptoms.

Common signs and symptoms of soft tissue sarcomas include:

  • A painless lump or swelling in the arm or leg, trunk, pelvis
  • Reduced movement of the joints
  • Fever of unknown origin
  • Increased risk of bone fracture (common in osteosarcoma and other bone sarcomas)
  • Abdominal swelling may cause pain, stomach fullness and constipation.
  • Sarcoma of the lungs may cause cough or breathlessness

Diagnosis

The signs and symptoms of sarcoma are general and may also be seen in other conditions. If you detect a lump or swelling in any part of your body, visit your doctor immediately for an evaluation.

Your doctor and multidisciplinary healthcare team will determine how to treat sarcoma after evaluating your symptoms and diagnostic test results. Diagnostic tests that may be recommended include:

  • A physical examination
  • Imaging tests like an CT scan, ultrasound or MRI
  • A biopsy may be done if the imaging tests indicate sarcoma. A tissue sample may be collected from the suspected cancerous tissue and sent for confirmation.

If the biopsy confirms sarcoma, the tissue sample is further analysed to determine its stage and type.

Treatment

The treatment options for sarcoma depend upon its type, location, tissue or organ affected, stage and extent of spread. Standard sarcoma treatment options include:

  • Surgery

Surgery is the main treatment option for sarcomas and involves the removal of the cancerous tissue. To ensure removal of all cancer cells, some amount of healthy tissue may also need to be removed during surgery.  

Small, early-stage cancers are best treated by surgery. In advanced stage 3 and stage 4 sarcoma, surgery may be combined with radiation or chemotherapies to reduce the size of the tumour and facilitate easy removal. 

In rare cases when the tumour involves other nearby structures like blood vessels or nerves, surgical removal of an arm or the leg might be needed to control the spread of cancer. Physical therapy and rehabilitation may be required following surgery to help you cope.

 It is natural to be anxious about undergoing surgery. Discuss with your doctor about any concerns you have. Feel free to seek a second opinion before beginning treatment.

  • Radiation therapy

This cancer treatment uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and stop their growth. Radiation treatment may be performed before surgery to reduce the tumour size and preserve vital structures.

  • Chemotherapy

This treatment uses powerful, anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells. The medications for sarcoma are usually injected into a vein and may be combined with radiation therapy in sarcomas that cannot be surgically removed. Chemotherapy for sarcoma can cause side effects. Discuss the same with your doctor.

  • Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy uses specific drugs that target only the cancer cells without damaging healthy cells. Though this treatment is not recommended for all types of cancers, few sarcomas have been treated using this therapy. Targeted drugs help shrink soft tissue sarcomas, alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life in advanced stages. 

Other newer treatments that have been used for sarcoma include brachytherapy, proton beam radiation therapy and immunotherapy.

 

 

 

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