Cancer awareness matters. July is Sarcoma Awareness Month, and we wanted to share information about the symptoms and risk factors for this relatively rare type of cancer to help you learn more about sarcoma.
Types of Sarcoma
There are 2 main types of sarcoma: soft tissue sarcomas (affecting the body’s soft, connective tissue) and bone sarcomas (attack the marrow of the bone). While both are rare types of cancer, soft tissue sarcomas are more common than bone sarcomas.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), this year about 12,020 people in America will contract soft tissue sarcomas.
Soft Tissue Sarcoma Symptoms and Risk Factors
The ACS points out that soft tissue sarcomas may be difficult to identify.
A majority of sarcomas begin in an arm or a leg, causing a lump that may or may not be painful. Sometimes, people do not notice the lump for weeks or months.
About 20% of sarcomas begin in the abdomen or stomach, causing internal blockage or bleeding. A few types of sarcoma also originate outside the chest or stomach, or on the head or neck.
If you have any of these problems, there is at least a chance you might have soft tissue sarcoma:
- A lump anywhere on your body – either a new one or one that has been there for a while.
- Increasing pain in the abdomen.
- Blood in vomit or stool.
- Black, sticky stools (caused by internal bleeding).
The ACS also provides a comprehensive list of soft tissue sarcoma cancer risk factors, which may include:
- Exposure to radiation (often as a treatment for a prior cancer).
- Certain genetic syndromes like neurofibromatosis, Gardner syndrome, Werner syndrome or retinoblastoma.
- A damaged lymphatic system (usually, when lymph nodes have been surgically removed or damaged by radiation).
Bone Sarcoma Risk Factors and Symptoms
Osteosarcoma (bone sarcoma) is primarily a young person’s disease, found most often in people between the ages of 10 and 30 during their teenage growth spurt. The risk goes down for middle-ages people, but rises again slightly in the elderly – usually in people who have already had another type of bone disease.
The Sarcoma Alliance (SA) provides a list of osteosarcoma symptoms, pointing out that bone cancer symptoms can vary based on the tumor’s location and size. These conditions can all be a sign of osteosarcoma:
- Pain in joints or bones.
- Swelling and tenderness in joints.
- Unexplained fractures (caused by a tumor weakening the bone).
- Weight loss.
The ACS also details a number of the most common risk factors for bone sarcoma:
- Age (between 10 and 30).
- Gender (the disease is more common in males).
- Ethnicity (African Americans are at a slightly higher risk).
- Height (taller children are more at risk, suggesting a correlation between bone sarcoma and bone growth).
- Radiation therapy for prior cancer.
- Certain non-cancerous bone diseases (Paget disease, benign bone tumors).
For more information about the types of sarcoma, symptoms and risk factors, you can visit the American Cancer Society and Sarcoma Alliance websites.
(Image via The Oncologist.)