Each year about 14,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with sarcoma, representing just one percent of all new cancer cases.
What Is Sarcoma?
Sarcoma is cancer that develops out of cells in connective tissues. It can begin in bones, cartilage, muscles, tendons, fibrous tissues, veins, arteries, nerves, skin, and fatty tissues. The term sarcoma comes from the Greek word sarkoma, meaning “fleshy growth.”
Sarcoma starts when cells in one of the connective tissues begin to grow abnormally. Cancer cells do not respond to regular cell growth, division, and death signals like healthy cells do. They also don’t organize normally. Instead they grow into a tumor, which may invade surrounding layers of tissue and possibly spread to other organs.
Where Does Sarcoma Occur?
About half of sarcomas occur in the arms or legs. The rest occur in the head and neck area, internal organs, or retroperitoneum (the back of the abdominal cavity). The majority of cases (close to 11,000) are soft tissue sarcomas; the others are bone cancers, also called osseous sarcomas.
Benign (noncancerous) tumors in soft tissue or bone are not the same as sarcoma. Cancers that start somewhere else in the body, such as lung cancer or breast cancer, may spread to the bone; these secondary bone tumors are not the same as bone cancer.
In recent years, doctors have gained a better understanding of sarcoma growth patterns, the risks of it spreading, and treatment options. Survival following treatment for sarcoma has improved tremendously.
Symptoms of sarcoma vary from person to person and depend on the type and location of the tumor and other factors, such as how far the tumor has spread.
When doctors suspect sarcoma, they may use several tools—including genetic sequencing—to gather more information about the tumor, determine whether it’s cancer, and predict which therapies will be most effective against it.
Sarcomas are divided into two main types: soft tissue sarcomas, which develop from soft tissues, such as muscles, fat, and nerves, and bone cancers, also called osseous sarcomas, which start in the bone.
Staging is the process of finding out how far cancer has spread. The treatment you need for sarcoma will be based, in large part, on the stage of your cancer.
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