What is sarcoma?

Sarcoma is a type of cancer that can affect different types of tissue on any part of the body. It occurs in the connective tissue, which includes the fat, blood vessels, nerves, bones, muscles, deep skin tissues and cartilage. It most commonly affects the arms and legs. Sarcoma also appears in the stomach and intestines, behind the abdomen and in the female reproductive system.

What are the different types of sarcoma?

There are three main types of sarcoma:

  • Soft tissue sarcoma – which develops in the supporting or connective tissue, such as the muscle, nerves, tendons, blood vessels and fibrous tissues.
  • Bone sarcoma – cancer that starts in the bone, which affects the legs most commonly.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST) – develops in the gastrointestinal tract, which is a long tube that runs from the oesophagus to the anus, and includes the stomach and intestines. Most incidences of GISTs occur in the stomach and small bowel.

What are the symptoms of sarcoma?

In cases of soft tissue sarcoma, there are often no symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms do appear, they may include a noticeable lump or swelling that is usually painless.

Bone sarcoma may be painful with or without a lump and it affects the long bones in the arm or the leg or pelvis. There may be blood in the stool or the stools will have a black, tarry appearance in cases of tumours in the gastrointestinal system.

How is sarcoma diagnosed?

If you notice a lump that is getting bigger you should visit your doctor. The doctor will conduct a medical examination. Imaging tests such as X-ray, ultrasound, a CAT scan or MRI will be required. A biopsy, which is the removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope, will confirm whether it is cancer.

What are the treatment options for sarcoma?

The treatment that you will need will depend on the stage and grade of cancer and the type of sarcoma that you have. Surgery is usually the first method used to treat sarcoma and the surgeon will remove the tumour. They will also remove an area of normal tissue surrounding the tumour too to reduce the risk of cancer coming back. In some cases, additional radiotherapy or chemotherapy is required.

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