Cancer can be overwhelming. At Sarah Cannon, we are sensitive to the newness of medical terms, treatment recommendations, and appointment schedules. To help ease fear and anxiety, we empower and equip patients and caregivers with the information and support they need throughout their cancer journey. If you or a loved one has received a sarcoma diagnosis, we hope this overview will serve as a resource that brings clarity and comfort.
What is sarcoma, and who does it affect?
Sarcoma is a general term for a broad group of cancers that begin in the bones and the soft tissues. Sarcoma can occur in various locations in the body because it is a tumor of the nerves, skin, tendons, fat, muscle, and bone. While it is a rare type of cancer, representing less than 1% of all diagnoses, sarcoma represents 15% of cancers found in children and young adults.
Sarcoma is often difficult to detect and may sometimes even be misdiagnosed. Consistent pain in the bones, swelling of joints, or abdominal pain are often overlooked signs of sarcoma, especially in young people who experience these symptoms as "growing pains."
How does sarcoma affect the body?
Sarcoma usually spreads through the bloodstream. Instead of invading structures like nerves, cells, and blood vessels, sarcomas grow like a traveling snowball that pushes those structures out of their way. Because of the way sarcoma moves through the body, the tumor grade (the aggressiveness, not size, of the cancer cells) is most important in determining behavior, treatment options, and therapies.
How is sarcoma treated?
The latest advances in sarcoma are promising for patients. Historically, sarcoma can be challenging to treat because of the location in the body and surgeries that may require loss of bone or tissue to remove cancer. Thankfully, the development of newer treatments can save patients from invasive surgeries. Radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted therapies can positively affect the tissue environment by stopping or slowing cancer growth.
Traditional treatment options for sarcomas include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. Your care team will determine a treatment plan specific to your cancer, which may include a clinical trial.
- Surgery: The most common treatment for sarcomas. If possible, the doctor may remove the cancer and a safe margin of the healthy tissue around it
- Radiation: Treatment with high-dose x-rays used either before surgery to decrease tumors or after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may be left behind
- Chemotherapy: Used with radiation therapy either before or after surgery to try and shrink the tumor or kill any remaining cancer cells. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, chemotherapy may be used to decrease tumors and reduce the pain and discomfort they cause
- Immunotherapy: Restores the body's own complex immune and defense mechanisms to recognize and destroy cancer cells
- Clinical Trial: Research studies that explore a new treatment option. If you are interesting in learning more about clinical trials, visit Clinical Trials 101 – Everything you need to know on the Sarah Cannon Blog
What are the advances in sarcoma research?
The latest sarcoma advances are currently testing new drugs that block new blood vessel formation. The drugs help slow sarcoma by keeping the disease from being fed by blood vessels. Vaccines and t-cell therapies and the use of heat and cold to kill tumors are also being explored for patients facing a sarcoma diagnosis.
As scientists better understand how specific gene changes in soft tissues cause sarcoma cancer to grow, they can recommend treatment and therapies that are unique and personalized for the best outcomes for patients. There is hope for healing and recovery.
Cancer can be less overwhelming if you have the right information and a great care team in your corner. If you recently received a sarcoma diagnosis or are experiencing symptoms, call askSARAH at 844-482-4812 to speak with a nurse 24/7 or visit askSARAH online.