Sarcoma

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Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center’s expert staff is committed to providing personalized care for our sarcoma patients. You can count on our leading sarcoma specialists to provide their expertise throughout your treatment and recovery.

What Is Sarcoma?

Sarcoma is a type of cancer that starts in the tissues of the body. While there are about 70 different types of sarcomas, they are characterized by two main types – bone and soft tissue sarcoma.

Soft tissue sarcomas develop in soft tissues like fat, muscle, nerves, fibrous tissues, blood vessels or deep skin tissues. They can be found in any part of the body with the majority starting in the arms or legs. They can also be found in the trunk, head and neck, internal organs and the areas in the back of the abdominal cavity (known as the retroperitoneum). Sarcomas that start in the bones (called osteosarcomas) are most often found in children. 

Who Can Get Sarcoma?

Although sarcoma is a rare form of cancer, both children and adults can develop the disease.

Sarcoma Risk Factors

While the exact causes of sarcomas are unknown, family history, Paget’s disease, certain genetic disorders or exposure to radiations or chemicals can increase your risk of developing sarcoma.

Learn more about the risk factors of sarcoma.

Sarcoma Symptoms

Soft tissue sarcomas can be difficult to spot as they can grow in any part of the body. Approximately half of soft tissue sarcomas start in an arm or leg. Typically, the first sign is a lump that may or may not hurt.

Sarcomas found in the back of the abdomen (retroperitoneum) produce symptoms that develop from problems the tumor is causing (blockage or bleeding of the stomach or bowels, pressing on nerves or blood vessels or nearby organs). They may grow large enough for the tumor to be felt in the abdomen.

In rare cases, sarcomas can start in the chest or in the head or neck area.

If you have any of these problems, see a doctor right away:

  • A new lump or a lump that continues to grow anywhere on your body
  • Abdominal pain that continues to worsen
  • Blood in your stool or vomit
  • Black or tarry stools (when bleeding happens in the stomach or bowels, the blood can turn black in color and may make the stool very black and sticky)

These symptoms are more often caused by things other than sarcoma.  It is important to speak to your doctor as they may signal other health problems.

Osteosarcoma (sarcoma in the bone), however, can show early and obvious symptoms, including:

  • Off and on pain in the affected bone. This pain can become worse at night
  • Swelling in the area that typically starts weeks after the pain
  • Limping if the sarcoma is in your leg

Learn more about the symptoms of sarcoma

Sarcoma Types

Sarcomas are categorized into two main types: soft tissue and bone sarcoma. These are then subcategorized into about 70 sarcoma subtypes. 

The most common soft tissue sarcomas include: 

  • Liposarcoma
  • Leiomyosarcoma
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors
  • Pleomorphic sarcoma

The most common type of bone cancer is osteosarcoma.

Learn more about the different types of sarcoma

Sarcoma Tests and Diagnosis

If you think you may have sarcoma, the doctors at Banner MD Anderson will perform routine tests. These tests will help your doctor asses if you have sarcoma and how far it has spread.

  • Medical history and physical exam
  • Imaging tests
  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound
  • PET scan
  • Biopsy

Learn more about the screening and testing for sarcoma.

Sarcoma Treatment and Support

Sarcoma treatments usually include chemotherapy, radiation treatment and surgery. The multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists at Banner MD Anderson can diagnose and help find support for all sarcoma treatments.

Learn more about the treatment and support available