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.