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Health A to Z

Understanding Sarcoma: The Cancer Of Connective Tissues

Dr. Pragnya Rao

Did you know there are more than 100 sub-types of this rare cancer?

The connective tissue in the body contains cells that hold the body together. These cells can be found in muscles, bones, fat, joints, nerves, tendons and blood vessels. A sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that affects the connective tissue and can be found in various locations in the body. 

There are more than 100 subtypes of sarcoma. These include soft tissue sarcomas and bone sarcomas. Some of the common sarcoma tumours with the affected part of the body in brackets are listed below:

  • Liposarcoma (fat)
  • Fibrosarcoma (fibrous tissue)
  • Angiosarcoma (blood vessels)
  • Osteosarcoma (bone)
  • Ewing’s sarcoma (bone)
  • Synovial cell sarcoma (joints)
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma (muscles)
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumours/ GIST (GI tract)
  • Chondrosarcoma (cartilage cells)

What causes a sarcoma?

It is still unclear as to what causes sarcomas. However, we do know that cancers are caused due to mutation of genetic material in the cells of the body leading them to grow and divide uncontrollably, hence forming tumours that destroy normal living tissues. 

A few factors have been identified to be associated with a higher risk of developing sarcoma:

  • Exposure to herbicides like vinyl chloride can increase the risk of developing sarcoma in the liver. 
  • Some patients underwent radiation therapy for cancer and were found to have sarcomas later. 
  • Exposure to viruses like HHV-8 (human herpesvirus) can lead to Kaposi’s sarcoma.

What are some early symptoms of a sarcoma?

Symptoms related to sarcoma manifest based on the location and size of the tumour. Some of them are as follows:

How are sarcomas diagnosed and treated?

Sarcomas are diagnosed based on symptom history, family history as well as a physical examination. Your doctor may ask you to get blood tests, an ultrasound scan, CT or MRI scans based on the affected body part. Bone scans are also important in diagnosing bone sarcomas. However, surgical biopsy or collection of a sample tissue and examination under a microscope contributes to accurate diagnoses. 

Sarcomas are treated using various modalities such as surgical removal of the lump, chemotherapy, targeted therapy using antibodies, immunotherapy and radiation therapy. A combination of therapy options may be used in order to eliminate cancer cells. It is, however, important to note that the sarcomas may recur later in one’s life even after they have been treated.

Speaking to an oncologist or cancer-specialist can help provide further insight into sarcomas and related conditions. If you or someone from your family suffers from any of the symptoms such as a painless lump, do not ignore such health risks. Consult with top doctors from over 30+ specialists including physicians, surgeons and oncologists to help you with expert opinions and treatment plans from the comfort of your home. #HarGharMeinDoctor 

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