July is National Sarcoma and Bone Cancer Awareness month, highlighting what’s widely considered the “forgotten cancer,” even though as many as 17,000 Americans are diagnosed with Sarcoma yearly. Research and drug development methods are challenging due to a lack of awareness and understanding of sarcoma cancer. We’ll provide some valuable information about sarcoma cancer and how it can affect people of all ages, especially the elderly population.
What Is Sarcoma Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, sarcoma is cancer that starts in soft or bone tissue, typically in the arms and legs. However, there have been cases of Sarcoma tumors in all parts of the body, including the head, neck, the rear of the abdominal cavity, internal organs, muscles, fat, blood vessels, cartilage, and deep skin tissues — making it a dangerous form of cancer that can occur in any part of the body. It’s one of the most deadly cancer forms, yet there is little sarcoma awareness.
The relative five-year survival rate for tissue cancer is 65%, while the survival rate for patients with bone tumors is slightly higher at 66.8%. It’s difficult to diagnose a sarcoma tumor, leading to late-stage diagnoses that are harder to treat.
What Are the Two Types of Sarcoma Cancer?
Although there are over 60 subtypes of sarcoma, there are two primary types: soft tissue sarcomas and bone sarcomas, also called osteosarcomas. Bone cancer awareness is low, and many studies group this type of tumor with other sarcomas. According to the National Cancer Assistance Foundation (NATCAF), three subcategories comprise most sarcoma and bone cancer cases.
Liposarcomas are malignant fat tissue tumors often found behind the knee, the back of the belly, or in the thigh. These soft tissue cancers typically occur in adults between the ages of 50 and 65 years of age.
Leiomyosarcomas is a smooth muscle cancer, usually in the abdomen or the uterus, but it can also begin in the arms and legs. Risk factors have been identified for patients with Uterine Sarcomas, including pelvic radiation, changes to RB genes, and race — African American women are diagnosed at twice as high as white or Asian women.
Undifferentiated Pleomorphic Sarcoma is a soft tissue or muscle cancer most often found in the upper and lower extremities. Previously known as malignant fibrous histiocytoma, this type of tumor is more common in older adults and especially dangerous because they tend to grow into the tissues in the surrounding area and can eventually spread to distant parts of the body.
There are many other subcategories of tissue cancer and bone tumors, each with its treatment pathway specific to the type, location, and level of severity, including:
- Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (affects the skin)
- Fibrosarcoma (affects fibrous tissue)
- Chondrosarcoma (affects cartilage)
- Angiosarcoma (affects blood vessels)
- Synovial sarcoma (affects tendons and joints)
- Pleomorphic sarcoma (affects abdomen, arms, and legs)
What Is the Cause of Sarcoma Cancer?
Well, that’s still up for debate. There’s little known about what causes sarcoma, and most sarcomas develop without any known cause. Still, there are a few theories on how some soft tissue and bone tumors develop.
Some studies connect some sarcomas to radiation exposure, but this accounts for less than 5% of cases. Radiation exposure in treatments for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and lymphomas have been identified as specific risk factors for getting a sarcoma this way.
Another possible cause of specific tumors is genetic conditions or changes within certain types of cells, including Werner or Gorlin syndromes, chromatic instability, or damage to the lymphatic system.
Additionally, it’s understood that exposure to certain chemicals raises the risk of developing sarcoma — in patients exposed to high doses of phenoxyacetic acid, usually found in herbicides.
Why Are Sarcomas Called the “Forgotten” or “Lonely” Cancer?
Since it’s believed Sarcoma tumors happen in less than 1% of cancer cases, it’s under-researched and mostly unknown. However, there’s evidence that cancer might be more prevalent. The National Cancer Institute has concluded that sarcomas are most likely underestimated.
That’s why sarcoma awareness month is so important. You can shed light on this little-known ailment by donning a yellow ribbon and getting people to ask, “what is sarcoma?” Also known for other important causes, such as supporting or honoring active-duty soldiers, yellow ribbons also stand for Sarcoma awareness. July is sarcoma awareness month, so take the time to spread information to your colleagues, friends, and family.
Where Can I Get a Diagnosis and Treatment for Sarcoma?
The rarity and complexity of sarcoma and bone cancer make them hard to treat, and there’s the added difficulty that many sarcomas don’t present with symptoms until it has significantly advanced. Getting a second opinion is essential if you have been diagnosed with sarcoma. Because of the nature of sarcomas, finding a treatment center with a vast network of specialists and treatment options is essential.
Verdi Oncology is an oncology practice management company that partners with future-focused physicians, practices, hospitals, and value-based entities to develop treatment pathways with patients at the center. Contact us to learn about your treatment options.