It’s natural to be concerned if you find a new lump or bump on your body. While the odds are that it’s nothing serious, there is a small chance a growth may be a sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that originates in bone and soft tissue. Incredibly uncommon -- sarcomas account for less than one percent of adult cancers and 15 percent in children -- the disease is often not recognized or caught early, a time when treatment is most effective.
Stemming from the Greek word sarkoma, which means “fleshy growth,” sarcomas originate from the connective or supportive tissues in the body, and are typically classified into two groups: bone sarcomas and soft tissue sarcomas. There are 100 distinct types of sarcomas, each requiring a different treatment approach.
The most common sites of sarcomas are the legs, hands, arms, head, neck, chest, shoulders, abdomen and hips. There may be no symptoms in early stages of the disease, but as sarcomas grow larger they can cause pain or swelling as they press against nerves or muscles. If left unchecked, sarcomas can spread to the liver, lungs and sometimes to the brain.
No one knows why some people develop sarcomas and others don't. Exposure to herbicides, wood preservatives and radiation from prior cancer treatment is thought to increase the likelihood of developing sarcoma, and genetic factors can also play a role. However, many people who develop sarcomas have no identifiable risk factors.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the incidence of bone and soft tissue sarcomas has been on the rise in recent years. The five year survival rate for both types is roughly 65 percent.
If sarcoma is discovered at an early stage, it can be effectively treated and often cured with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these methods. Promising approaches in the treatment of more advanced disease include targeted drugs that block specific molecules in the cancer cells, and anti-angiogenesis drugs that prevent blood vessels from forming in the tumor. Recently, a combination therapy consisting of a novel monoclonal antibody therapy and traditional chemotherapy has been found to increase survival in patients with advanced sarcoma.
Because sarcoma is so rare, people with sarcoma have unique challenges, from obtaining an accurate and timely diagnosis to finding the right doctor and treatment plan for their specific type of tumor. Once the correct diagnosis is made, it is important to be treated at a comprehensive cancer center where a multidisciplinary team of experts can provide highly individualized care for a patient’s specific sarcoma.
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s NCI-Designated Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University Medical Center offers the most advanced treatments and clinical trials for sarcoma. NewYork-Presbyterian Cancer Centers provide high-quality, comprehensive cancer care at convenient locations throughout the New York metropolitan area, Westchester and the Lower Hudson Valley in state-of-the-art, comfortable environments. Board certified medical, surgical and radiation oncologists collaborate to provide each patient with an individualized plan of care. To find a location in your area visit nyp.org/cancerlocations.
NewYork-Presbyterian is one of the largest and most comprehensive hospitals in the nation, ranked New York’s No. 1 hospital for the 16th consecutive year, and No. 6 in the United States, according to U.S. News and World Report. Affiliated with two academic medical colleges – Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, NewYork-Presbyterian brings together internationally recognized researchers and clinicians to develop and implement the latest approaches for prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center is one of only three NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in New York State. NewYork-Presbyterian provides comprehensive cancer care at all of our locations across the New York Metro area including Westchester County and the Hudson Valley. Learn more at nyp.org/cancer.