Editor’s note: This article was originally published on 7/7/2017 and is being re-published, with editing, in recognition of Sarcoma Awareness Month. The content below does not reflect the entire original published piece.
Every cancer has it’s “color.” Breast cancer is pink, colorectal cancer is blue, and cancer survivorship is represented by purple. But what about yellow? Have you ever seen someone wearing a yellow ribbon? Maybe not, as the yellow ribbon is associated with a more rare cancer – sarcoma.
Sarcoma is a rare cancer of connective tissue, which includes nerves, muscles, fat, joints, and bone. It is often found after it is already in its advanced stages. Sarcomas comprise approximately one percent of all cancers diagnosed. Sarcoma can develop in children and adults in which they all share certain microscopic characteristics and have similar symptoms associated with the cancer. In the early stages, there are rarely any symptoms, though as tumors grow they become more noticeable. The first symptom typically is a painless lump. The tumor grows and eventually begins to impact nearby nerves and muscles and either pain or soreness can then occur. Tumors may not be detected until they are quite large due to elasticity of the soft tissues.
Sarcomas are divided into two main groups, bone sarcomas and soft tissue sarcomas and can start in any part of the body. According to Cancer Net, typically 50% of sarcomas begin in an arm or leg, 40% start in the torso or abdomen, and 10% occur in the head or neck. Most people diagnosed with sarcoma are cured by surgery alone if the tumor is not likely to spread to other parts of the body. More aggressive sarcomas are harder to treat successfully.
If you or your loved one is or has been diagnosed with sarcoma, here are some FAQ’s that might be helpful.
Q: How many different types of sarcoma cancer are there?
A: There are more than 50 different types of sarcomas but they are grouped in two groups, soft tissue, and bone sarcoma.
Q: Can sarcoma be found early?
A: There are no screening or test that can aid in early prevention at this point. For those who have family with the cancer, a helpful tip would be genetic testing. Genetic testing can help you figure out if there are mutated genes which can put you as a co-survivor at higher risk for having the cancer. Overall the best approach is to primary prevention or early detection is to tell your health care professional about any unexplained lumps or growths and other symptoms that may be caused by sarcoma.
Q: Why is a biopsy needed for diagnosis?
A: When a biopsy is done, it is easier to exam the tissue from the tumor. Biopsy help pathologists identify the type of tumor and whether it is benign or malignant. In addition, it also helps the doctor determine the course of treatment.
Q: Is a sarcoma different from other cancers?
A: No sarcoma isn’t different from other cancers. Of course, they all come with their own signs and symptoms but just like all cancers, sarcoma a disease caused by the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in different parts of the body.
Q: How do people get sarcoma cancer?
A: It is unclear how most sarcomas arise. Some patients can have a familial syndrome that can lead to a sarcoma, but these are rare cases.
Q: How rare is sarcoma really?
A: The fact that sarcoma cancer is so rare is probably the reason for not attracting researchers, raising funds and raising awareness. Sarcomas comprise approximately one percent of all cancers diagnosed. The Sarcoma Alliance explains in its published resources, that because sarcoma is more common in children, “cancers that affect younger people have disproportionately large impacts on society, because the younger the victim, the more potential there is to contribute to society”. So it is not only how many individuals are diagnosed that is important, but the impact on both individuals and society. And no matter how rare a disease is, if it impacts someone directly or through the diagnosis of a loved one, it becomes important.
To learn more about sarcoma, and other cancers, visit Cancer Net to read oncologist-approved information from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and with support from the Conquer Cancer Foundation.
Amankwah, E. K., Conley, A. P., & Reed, D. R. (2013, May 16). Epidemiology and therapies for metastatic sarcoma. Retrieved July 10, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3660127/
How Rare Is Sarcoma Really? Retrieved July 10, 2018, from http://sarcomaalliance.org/what-you-need-to-know/how-rare-is-sarcoma-really/
Sarcoma, Soft Tissue: Introduction. (2016, November 11). Retrieved July 10, 2018, from http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/sarcoma-soft-tissue/introduction
Sarcoma, Soft Tissue – Statistics. (2017, May 23). Retrieved June 08, 2017, from http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/sarcoma-soft-tissue/statistics