If you see yellow ribbons around your community during the month of July, it may mean something different than the usual “Support Our Troops” many think of when first sighted. Instead, they could be displayed in honor of Sarcoma Awareness Month, observed each July.
Sarcoma is a soft-tissue cancer that may occur in a variety of the body’s soft tissues, including the nerves, muscles, joints, blood vessels, fat and more. Sarcoma may also occur in the bones. Although rare in adults, making up just ONE percent of adult cancers, sarcoma is relatively common in children, accounting for fifteen percent of childhood cancer cases. Bone and joint cancer is most frequently diagnosed among teenagers, while soft tissue cancers typically affect those 55 years or older.
Sarcoma is most often found in the arms and legs, where the majority of connective tissues are located, but it can occur virtually anywhere. Because the disease often starts deep in the body, it may not be noticeable until a large lump or bump appears — and at this point the cancer may be difficult to treat.
The Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA) estimates that about 20 percent of sarcoma cases are curable by surgery while another 30 percent may be effectively treated with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation. However, in about half of cases, the disease is resistant to all form of treatments, highlighting an urgent need for new therapies.
Soft tissue sarcomas form in cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, tendons, nerves, and around joints. Osteosarcomas develop in bone; liposarcomas form in fat; rhabdomyosarcomas form in muscle; and Ewing sarcomas form in bone and soft tissue.
In 2018, over 13,000 cases of soft tissue sarcoma and 3,400 cases of bone sarcomas are expected to be diagnosed in the United States, according to data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER). Approximately 5,100 and 1,590 people are expected to die from soft tissue and bone sarcomas, respectively. The five-year survival rate for soft tissue sarcomas is 50 percent, while the survival rate is 66 percent for bone sarcomas.
Because sarcomas are difficult to distinguish from other cancers when they are found within organs, their incidence is probably underestimated, according to the National Cancer Institute.
People with soft tissue sarcomas often have no symptoms. There may be no signs until the lump grows to a large size and can be felt; however, even this may go unnoticed. The main symptoms are:
Specific symptoms may reflect the particular type of sarcoma. For instance, tumors in the gastrointestinal system may bleed, so these sarcomas might produce symptoms like blood in the stool, or a stool that has a black, tarry appearance.
Types of soft tissue sarcoma are defined by the specific tissue or location affected; they include:
The causes behind sarcoma are unknown, but there are some known risk factors. In adults, for instance, exposure to phenoxy acetic acid in herbicides or chlorophenols in wood preservatives may increase the risk. High doses of radiation are also known to cause sarcomas in some people, as are certain rare genetic alterations. The following inherited diseases are also associated with an increase sarcoma risk, according to SFA:
Having certain inherited disorders can increase the risk for other soft tissue sarcomas, including retinoblastoma, tuberous sclerosis, Werner syndrome, and nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome. Other risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma include past treatment with radiation therapy for certain cancers; exposure to certain chemicals, such as thorium dioxide, vinyl chloride, or arsenic; and long-term lymphedema in the arms or legs.
Past treatment with radiation can increase the risk of osteosarcoma and other types of bone cancers. Other risk factors for osteosarcoma include treatment with anticancer drugs called alkylating agents, having a certain change in the retinoblastoma gene, and having certain conditions including Paget disease, Diamond-Blackfan anemia, and Werner syndrome.
After understanding a patient’s medical history and completing a medical examination, medical imaging scans will help to inform a diagnosis, which will need to be confirmed through laboratory analysis of a tumor sample.
The following physical features should prompt a doctor to investigate:
Medical imaging helps to locate, characterize, and give further information about a tumor to guide diagnosis. It may also be used to gauge the success of treatment or to look for spread of cancer.
Imaging techniques include X-rays, CT scan (computed tomography), MRI(magnetic resonance imaging), ultrasound, and PET (positron emission tomography).
The following treatment options can be used for sarcomas:
Some soft tissue sarcomas have other available treatments, such as specific drug treatments, gene-targeted therapies, or biological therapies such as immunotherapy.
Treatment choice and intensity are also guided by the stage and grade of cancer, by the size of the tumor, and extent of any spread.
Sarcoma is not typically preventable. Radiation therapy is a risk factor, so reducing exposure to it may be preventive, although a need for radiation therapy usually outweighs any subsequent sarcoma risk.
Sarcoma is still considered to be the “forgotten cancer.” Efforts to encourage research and drug development are made more challenging due to a lack of awareness and understanding. How as a community do we raise funds for vital research if people don’t know that this cancer exists?
Though the Sarcoma Foundation of America works tirelessly every day to raise awareness, during Sarcoma Awareness Month, they aim to further highlight the extraordinary challenges sarcoma patients face and the need for more sarcoma research and better sarcoma therapies. Please join in efforts and pledge to bring awareness to your community. Here are a few ways you can help highlight the need for ongoing research on sarcoma:
Since sarcoma is a rare cancer, many people are unfamiliar with the disease and have not been affected personally. However, many children’s lives have been altered because of this disease, and advances in early detection and treatment could help save lives.
A number of clinical trails are underway for people with sarcoma. If you’ve been recently diagnosed, ask your doctor if a clinical trial, which could give you access to novel treatment options, is right for you.
Trying to find the right doctor to determine if that lump or new pain is something more than just a little annoying is made easy at HealthLynked. We are the first ever social ecosystem designed to connect physicians and patients in a truly collaborative platform to Improve HealthCare.
Ready to get Lynked? Sign up for free today and take control of your wellness!
Han, MD, Seunggu. “Sarcoma: Symptoms, types, treatments, and causes.” Medical News Today. 23 May 2017.