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Sarcoma Overview

"Sarcoma" is a term used to describe a whole family of cancers that arise in the body's connective tissues, which include fat, muscle, blood vessels, deep skin tissues, nerves, bones, and cartilage.

Sarcoma is broken down into two types: soft tissue tumors and bone tumors.

Soft tissue sarcomas come in many forms:

  • angiosarcoma (blood vessels
  • fibrosarcoma (connective tissue)
  • gastrointestinal stromal tumor (digestive system)
  • Kaposi's sarcoma (skin)
  • liposarcoma (fat)
  • leiomyosarcoma (smooth muscle)
  • malignant fibrous histiocytoma (connective tissue)
  • neurofibrosarcoma (nerves)
  • rhabdomyosarcoma (skeletal muscle) and
  • synovial sarcoma (often near joints, but can occur anywhere).

Soft tissue sarcomas account for only 1% of all cancers in adults. There are approximately 7000 new cases a year in the United States.

The most common sites of origin are the extremities (legs and arms); however, sarcomas can arise in any part of the body - including the abdomen, pelvis and head/neck region.

Bone sarcomas are rare types of cancer that mainly affect children and young adults. There are several types of bone sarcomas that typically affect different parts of bones and joints. The cancerous tumors can grow in any bone in the body; however, most occur in the arms or legs.

The most common bone sarcomas include:

  • Osteosarcoma (tumor usually develops in the ends of long bones where new bone tissue forms),
  • Ewing's sarcoma (tumor usually develops in the middle of large bones such as pelvis, thigh, upper arms and ribs), and
  • Chondrosaroma (found mainly in adults, this type of tumor forms in the cartilage that cushions joints).

Bone sarcomas account for only 0.2% of all cancers in the United States. There are approximately 2500 new cases a year. Bone tumors have a higher incidence of spreading to other parts of the body, especially the lungs, so extra tests are taken to determine if spread of the disease has occurred.

Patients diagnosed with sarcoma find the terms related to the disease to be very confusing. Without a good understanding of the treatment plan presented to you by your doctor it is difficult to cope with your new diagnosis of cancer.

Throughout the many steps in the treatment plan you will encounter different types of doctors to help manage your care, such as an orthopedic surgical oncologist, medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist. This multidisciplinary team will meet and discuss your case with a pathologist and a radiologist to come up with an individualized treatment plan for you.

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