As with any cancer, an early and accurate diagnosis is critical to treating sarcoma. Since sarcomas are complex and can develop almost anywhere in the body, they can be difficult to diagnose. However, it is important to have an accurate diagnosis of the type and extent of sarcoma before beginning treatment.
A wrong diagnosis may actually be harmful and can reduce the success of therapeutic intervention. A biopsy that is not done correctly can make treatment more difficult. Therefore, it is recommended that the surgeon who performs the biopsy also removes the tumor.
The only way to be certain a tumor is sarcoma is through a biopsy, which removes a small number of cells to examine under a microscope.
Depending on location of the tumor, one of the following types of biopsy may be done:
- Fine needle aspiration (FNA): A very small needle is placed into the tumor and suction is applied. CT (computed tomography) may be used to help guide the needle. If testing shows that the tumor may in fact be a sarcoma, another type of biopsy will likely be done to remove a larger piece of tissue.
- Core needle: A needle slightly larger than the one used in an FNA biopsy is used to remove a cylindrical sample of tissue.
- Incisional: An incision (cut) is made in the skin and a small part of tumor is removed.
- Excisional: An incision (cut) is made in the skin and the entire growth is surgically removed.
Imaging tests may be used before or after biopsy to determine the location and extent of the tumor. Imaging tests commonly used to diagnose sarcoma include:
- CT or CAT (computed axial tomography)
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
- PET (positron emission tomography) scans
- Chest X-ray