A sarcoma is a cancerous tumor that originates in the body’s connective tissue. While sarcomas can occur almost anywhere in the body, arms and legs are the most common sites for sarcoma tumors to grow. This is because the limbs contain a relatively high amount of connective tissue compared to the rest of the body. Sarcomas account for 1% of all adult cancers and 15% of cancers found in children1.

What are the different types of sarcoma?

There are several types of sarcomas that affect the different cells of the body’s connective tissue. Read more about the types of sarcomas at Duke Health.

What are the symptoms of sarcoma?

Sarcomas, at least in their early stages, typically do not cause noticeable symptoms, which can make their early diagnosis very difficult. The first sign of sarcoma is usually a noticeable, but painless lump or swelling somewhere on the body. Theses lumps eventually may become painful as they compress the surrounding tissues. Sometimes bone sarcomas will weaken affected areas of the bone to the point of fracture.

Be suspicious of:

  • New or abnormal lumps or persistent swelling anywhere on your body, even if they are painless.
  • Prolonged and unexplained pain anywhere on your body

How is sarcoma diagnosed?

Physical exams will be performed to examine the body for visible and felt symptoms.

Imaging tests use x-rays, magnetic fields, or sound waves to create pictures of the inside of your body. For sarcomas, imaging tests include x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, ultrasounds, positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

Biopsy involves removing and studying a small portion of a suspected sarcoma tumor under a microscope. Other tests may suggest the presence of a sarcoma, but a biopsy is the only way to confirm the presence of a sarcoma.

What are the different stages of Sarcoma?

The system often used to stage sarcomas is the TNM system of American Joint Committee on Cancer.

The TNM system describes 3 key pieces of information:

  • T stands for the size of the tumor.
  • N stands for spread to lymph nodes (small bean-shaped collections of immune system cells found throughout the body that help fight infections and cancers).
  • M is for metastasis (spread to distant organs).

What are the treatment options for sarcomas?

This sarcoma treatment information does not outline the particular treatment(s) a patient will receive. Rather, it provides general information about the typical treatments for this type of cancer.

Primary treatment options:

  • Surgery consists of removing the sarcoma tumor and surrounding tissue. Small sarcomas can usually be effectively treated with surgery alone. However, sarcoma tumors larger than 5 cm are often treated with a combination of surgery and radiation therapy.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer. For sarcomas, radiation therapy may be done before surgery to shrink the tumor so it is more easily removed. Types of radiation therapy used for sarcomas include external beam radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy).
  • Chemotherapy employs drugs to treat cancer. Chemotherapy is often used when a sarcoma has metastasized, before surgery to shrink the tumor, and/or after surgery to prevent recurrence.

Secondary treatment options:

  • Targeted therapies/kinase-directed therapies are drugs that restrict the growth of sarcoma cells and protect normal cells from damage.

What are the risk factors of Sarcoma?

  • Age: Sarcomas are correlated to advancing age. The average age at diagnosis is 57 years.
  • Chemical exposure: to vinyl chloride and dioxin increases the risk of developing soft tissue sarcomas.
  • Radiation: Previous radiation exposure increases the possibility of developing soft tissue sarcomas.

How is Sarcoma prevented?

Avoiding of the aforementioned risk factors is the only known way to reduce the possibility of developing Sarcoma.

Mikayla D. Williams , BS student, Nursing , The University of Arizona
Michael Principe, MA, Information Resources and Library Science
Works Cited: 
American Cancer Society (2014). Sarcoma-Adult Soft Tissue Cancer.
Works Consulted: 
Sarcoma Foundation of America (2014). About Sarcoma.
Sarcoma Alliance (2014). What you need to know.