Sarcoma Awareness Month

Known as the “forgotten cancer,” a sarcoma can develop anywhere in your body and produce symptoms that mimic other conditions. When situated within organs, sarcomas may even look like other cancers. It’s important to understand, therefore, the signs and symptoms of this rare cancer, how it can affect you, and factors that may put you at risk.

Sarcomas typically form in the connective tissues that join or support other tissues in your body. They usually occur in two main forms:  soft tissue or bone sarcoma, also known as osteosarcoma. Soft tissue sarcomas form in cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, tendons, nerves, and around joints.  Osteosarcomas develop in bone.

A soft tissue sarcoma is tough to recognize, and there are no tests that can discover one. It tends to present as a painless lump which, as it grows, presses against nerves or muscles, and causes pain or breathing trouble, or both.

The early signs of osteosarcoma are more obvious, including intermittent pain, swelling, or the need to limp, if it’s is in your leg.

Osteosarcoma affects children and young adults more often than adults. Because it can cause pain and swelling in the arms and legs--which healthy, active children and teens often experience--it may be mistaken for growing pains or a sports injury. Talk to your doctor if your child’s pain doesn’t subside, worsens at night, or affects only one arm or leg.

No one knows what causes sarcoma, but there are some known risk factors, including:

  • Family history
  • The bone disorder Paget’s disease
  • Certain inherited conditions, such as retinoblastoma, tuberous sclerosis, or Werner syndrome;
  • Radiation exposure from past cancer therapy;
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as thorium dioxide, vinyl chloride, or arsenic; or,
  • Long-term lymphedema in the arms and legs.

Fortunately, sarcomas are treatable, usually with surgery to remove the tumor. 

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