All You Need to Know about Sarcoma, the “Forgotten Cancer”
During our famously hot summers, while Texans slather on sunscreen to protect ourselves from skin cancer, Family Healthcare Associates wants to take time during “Sarcoma Awareness Month” to shine a light on another form of cancer that flies under the radar for most of us.
Unless you, or someone you know, has been diagnosed with sarcoma, you probably have never heard of it. Some people even call it the “forgotten cancer,” so it’s understandable if you are asking yourself, “What exactly is a sarcoma?” Let us start with the fundamentals to get you up to speed. A sarcoma is a type of cancer that is usually detected in the soft tissue areas, or bones, but they can occur anywhere in areas of the body where there is bone, muscle, tendon, fat, or connective tissue.
How Can You Spot a Sarcoma?
The most common symptom is a lump on your arm or leg, which doesn’t go away. Other types of sarcomas may grow in your chest, or abdomen. These are harder to detect as most people do not even know they are there, and the cancer can grow for an extended period before the patient experiences any discomfort. Anyone can be diagnosed with a sarcoma, but they are more common in children than adults. Sarcoma cases only make up approximately 1% of all adult cancer diagnoses—but account for about 15% of all cancer cases in children.
What Are the Most Common Forms of Sarcoma?
It is estimated that in 2022, more than 13,000 Americans will be diagnosed with a “soft tissue sarcoma,” which are usually found in older adults. The most common types of sarcomas are soft tissue “undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma,” fatty tissue “liposarcoma,” and smooth muscle “leiomyosarcoma.” With most soft tissue sarcomas, the patient may notice a lump that can be felt through the skin, which may (or may not) be painful. In other cases, the sarcoma may be deeply embedded, so you may not feel a mass at all, but you may feel unexplained pain, or experience unexplained weight loss. If you have any of these symptoms that persist for more than six weeks, we encourage you make an appointment with one of our physicians.
When it comes to spotting the other common type of sarcoma called a bone sarcoma, or a “bone tumor,” a person may feel persistent bone pain, or suddenly experience a broken bone without having any previous injury. Bone sarcomas affect young children and older adults (more than 3,500 children and adults will be diagnosed with a bone sarcoma in 2022). The most common types of bone sarcoma are osteosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma, and chondrosarcoma.
How Can I Protect Myself from Getting a Sarcoma?
Doctors do not know exactly what causes most sarcomas, but we do know that radiation treatments from other cancers like lymphoma, breast cancer, and cervical cancer can sometimes lead to a sarcoma. In addition, some studies show that exposure to vinyl chloride, arsenic, and certain herbicides may also increase the risk of sarcoma.
Can a Sarcoma Be Treated?
If a sarcoma is found at an early stage, surgical treatment is often effective. If it has spread to other parts of the body, treatment can stop it from spreading, but it is often incurable. This is why it is important to have any new mass you detect examined by a doctor as soon as possible. Your physician may order a biopsy to check the cells of your mass, and if you are diagnosed with a sarcoma, your doctor may order a CT or MRI to pinpoint the type of sarcoma. If you catch it before it has spread, treatment is often surgery to remove the mass, and then radiation and chemotherapy.
Keep in mind, many doctors have never treated a patient with sarcoma, so it may be a good idea to get a second opinion from a cancer doctor that specializes in sarcoma. Do not wait. If you notice a mass on your body that keeps getting bigger get examined today.