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Sarcomas are cancerous tumours of the connective tissues. These include fat, bones, muscles and cartilage. Although there are many different types, sarcomas are generally divided into two broad groups: soft tissue sarcomas and bone sarcomas.
This type of cancer forms as a painful lump (tumour) in the bone. During a bone sarcoma’s growth stage, the cancer cells multiply and start to destroy the bone. This then causes the affected bone to become weak.
The most common places where bone sarcoma develops are around the knee, the wrist, the shoulder and the pelvis. They are mostly found in children, teenagers and young adults.
The most common type of bone cancer is osteosarcoma, which accounts for 5% of the tumours in children. This form of bone cancer is characterised by its millions of abnormal bone producing cells. Ewing’s sarcoma is another type of bone cancer, however this type of sarcoma can also occur as a soft tissue sarcoma, depending on the location of the tumour. Chondrosarcoma is also a bone sarcoma characterised by its millions of abnormal cartilage cells.
Symptoms of bone sarcomas depend on multiple factors, including the size and location of the tumour. One of the most common symptoms is pain, due to swelling and tenderness caused by the tumour. Pain may be much worse at night or during activity.
Numerous steps must be completed in order to diagnose a bone sarcoma. An X-ray is usually the first step in locating a tumour. Further testing, such as CT scans and MRIs will be required after initial testing. A biopsy will be then necessary to confirm the presence of cancer.
Treatment is dependent on size, location and type of cancer. Chemotherapy followed by surgical removal of the tumour is considered as standard treatment. The amputation of a limb may also be necessary, however the use chemotherapy both before and after surgery has improved chances of saving a limb. Radiation may also be necessary for Ewing’s sarcoma.
Soft Tissue Sarcomas
Soft tissue sarcomas develop in connective tissue such as fat, muscle, nerves and blood vessels. Almost 60% of soft tissue sarcomas arise in the arms or legs, 20% in the trunk, 5% in the head and neck, and 15-20% in the abdomen or internal organs.
The most common types include liposarcoma, which occurs from fat tissue, rhabdomyosarcoma, from muscle tissues and synovial sarcoma, which occurs from the tissue surrounding joints.
Soft tissue sarcomas don’t usually cause symptoms in their early growth. Due to the elasticity of soft tissue, tumours can grow rather large, pushing aside normal tissue before they are felt or cause any problems. A painless lump or swelling may be the first signs. Pain and soreness will develop as the tumour grows, due to it pressing against nearby nerves and muscles.
Diagnosis of whether a soft tissue tumour is benign or malignant is only possible by a biopsy. The tissue is then examined under the microscope. Depending on its size, location and growth rate, soft tissue sarcomas can be treated using a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.