July is National Sarcoma Awareness Month. Though it is a rare form of cancer, sarcoma (adult soft tissue cancer) can be deadly, and awareness of this type of cancer is the first step toward prevention.
What is sarcoma?
A sarcoma is an uncommon cancerous tumor that develops in connective tissues, such as fat, blood vessels, nerves, bones, muscles, deep skin tissues and cartilage. There are two main types of sarcomas: bone sarcomas, known as osteosarcomas, and soft tissue sarcomas. Most sarcomas develop in the arms or legs, though they can be found in any part of the body, including the trunk, head, neck and even internal organs.
The following information pertains to soft tissue sarcomas.
Who is at risk for soft tissue sarcoma?
Soft tissue sarcoma comprises about one percent of all cancers diagnosed. The American Cancer Society estimates that this year alone, about 12,310 new soft tissue sarcomas will be diagnosed in the United States. Soft tissue sarcoma is slightly more common in men than in women.
Scientists have found a link between a few risk factors and the development of soft tissue sarcomas. These risk factors include:
Radiation exposure: An individual who has undergone radiation treatment for another type of cancer may be more likely to develop sarcoma in the area of the body treated with radiation. Radiation exposure accounts for less than five percent of sarcomas.
Certain family cancer syndromes: Family cancer syndromes are inherited disorders caused by gene defects and are linked to a high risk of certain cancers. Some of these syndromes include: neurofibromatosis, Garner syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, retinoblastoma, Werner syndrome, Gorlin syndrome and tuberous sclerosis.
A damaged lymph system: When lymph nodes have been removed by surgery or damaged by radiation, lymph fluid can build up and cause swelling, potentially leading to a rare form of cancer in the lymph vessels known as lymphangiosarcoma.
Exposure to certain chemicals: Exposure to various chemicals, such as vinyl chloride (a chemical used in making plastics), arsenic, dioxin and herbicides containing high doses of phenoxyacetic acid (with which people who work on farms might come in contact with) may increase one’s risk of developing sarcoma.
Unlike some other forms of cancer, lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet and exercise are not linked to an increased risk of soft tissue sarcoma.
What are they symptoms of soft tissue sarcomas?
A majority of sarcoma cases begin in the arm or leg and most people will notice a growing lump, which can sometimes be painful. Depending on where the sarcoma develops, other symptoms can occur, including:
- Worsening abdominal pain
- Bloody stool or vomit
- Black, tarry stools
- New lump or growing lump anywhere on the body
While these symptoms can be caused by something other than sarcoma, if you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see your physician right away. Soft tissue sarcomas can only be diagnosed by a surgical biopsy, during which tissue is removed from the tumor and analyzed under a microscope.
Much like other cancers, soft tissue sarcomas are treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of some or all of these cancer treatments.
Can soft tissue sarcomas be prevented?
Avoiding exposure to the risk factors mentioned above is the only way to prevent some soft tissue sarcomas. It is possible for people who do not have any risk factors to develop soft tissue sarcoma, in which case, there is no known way to prevent this type of cancer.
Due to the rarity of this type of cancer, it is important that patients with soft tissue sarcoma be treated by a cancer specialist. To learn more about oncology services at Goshen Health Center for Cancer Care, give us a call at 888.492.4673.