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Sarcoma Awareness Month 2020: What Is Sarcoma? Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors And Treatment

Sarcoma awareness month (SAM) is celebrated every year in July. Sarcoma is a rare and deadly cancer type which is often ignored by people. The yellow ribbon symbol for sarcoma awareness is to bring attention to this forgotten cancer.

The day is meant to raise awareness of sarcoma for its early diagnosis and treatment. As this cancer type is rare, its diagnosis gets challenging. SAM is also meant to make people aware of the challenges faced by individuals suffering from this cancer and the need for better treatment methods. Let's know more about sarcoma, its causes, symptoms and treatments.

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What Is Sarcoma?

Sarcoma is an umbrella term for various types of cancers that start in the bones (bone sarcoma) and soft connective tissues (soft tissue sarcomas) such as muscles, fat, ligaments, cartilage, tendons, blood vessels and lining of the joints.

There are more than 70 types of sarcomas. According to American Society of Clinical Oncology, sarcomas are likely to affect children. It can occur in any body part but common in legs, arms and abdomen. [1]

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Symptoms Of Sarcoma

The symptoms of sarcoma depend on their types and location. Common symptoms occur.

  • Blood in the stool (sarcoma in the gastrointestinal system)
  • Pain in the bones (bone sarcoma) [2]
  • A lump or swelling with or without pain
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting or stomach pain

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Causes Of Sarcoma

The exact cause of sarcoma is still unknown, but it is mainly because of a gene mutation that causes the cells to grow and divide at a faster rate and form a tumour. However, there are certain risk factors such as genetic, chemical exposure or medical conditions which are linked to the development of the condition. [3]

However, medical experts suggest that some people do not get sarcoma even if they have two or more risk factors while some can get the condition even without any.

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Risk Factors Of Sarcoma

Here is the list of risk factors that are likely to cause sarcoma:

  • History of medical conditions like Li-Fraumeni syndrome, neurofibromatosis, Gardner syndrome or Werner syndrome.
  • Long term exposure to chemicals such as arsenic or dioxin.
  • Long term exposure to radiation or a high dose of radiation therapies to treat other cancer forms such as cervical or breast.
  • Damaged lymph system [4]

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Diagnosis Of Sarcoma

Diagnosis of sarcoma is carried out by examining the lump (if any) followed by a series of questions. A medical expert asks questions about the pain in the lump, family history, underlying medical condition, symptoms and others. Imaging tests like CT scan, PET scan, X-ray and MRI is carried out. A biopsy may be suggested in which a small part of the lump tissue is taken and analysed for signs of cancer.

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Treatment Of Sarcoma

There are various treatment methods depending on the types and location of sarcomas. [5]

  • Surgery: Surgical removal of the tumour or cancerous cells.
  • Chemotherapy: It is a drug treatment method to kill cancerous cells. It is mainly carried out for bone sarcoma instead of soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Radiation therapy: This treatment method is recommended to kill the remaining cancerous cells left after surgery.

Common FAQs

1. Is sarcoma cancer deadly?

Sarcoma cancer is deadly when diagnosed at a later stage of life or in the last stage of cancer. If diagnosed early, it can be fully treated by surgery, chemotherapy or other effective ways. Untreated sarcomas increase the risk of spread of cancerous cells to other body parts.

2. What does a sarcoma look like?

Sarcoma usually looks like a lump or swelling present in the soft tissues of the body. The lump can be painful or painless.

Story first published: Tuesday, July 7, 2020, 13:00 [IST]
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