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Sarcoma Awareness Month: Increasing Awareness Around a Rare Cancer

Sarcoma Awareness Month

July marks Sarcoma Awareness Month, a critical time to illuminate this often misunderstood disease and stress the crucial roles of advocacy and education in significantly improving patient outcomes. There are over 70 subtypes of sarcoma, each with unique characteristics and treatment challenges. This diversity contributes to the difficulty in diagnosing and treating sarcoma effectively.

Sarcoma is a rare and complex type of cancer that develops in the bones and soft tissues of the body, including muscles, tendons, fat, blood vessels, and nerves. Despite accounting for only about one percent of adult and fifteen percent of childhood cancer cases, its impact is significant and far-reaching.

Sarcoma Symptoms

Sarcoma symptoms often mimic more common, benign conditions, which can lead to misdiagnosis or delays in seeking medical attention. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seeking medical advice for a proper diagnosis is essential.

Here are some common symptoms associated with sarcoma:

  • Lump or Swelling: A noticeable lump or swelling under the skin that may or may not be painful
  • Pain: Persistent pain in the affected area that can become severe over time
  • Limited Range of Motion: If the sarcoma is near a joint, it may cause restricted movement or stiffness
  • Swelling or Numbness: Larger tumors may press on nerves or blood vessels, causing swelling or numbness in the affected area
  • Fatigue: General fatigue or weakness that doesn’t improve with rest
  • Unintended Weight Loss: Significant weight loss without trying to lose weight
  • Abdominal Pain: For sarcomas in the abdomen, there may be pain, a sense of fullness, or digestive issues
  • Skin Changes: There may be skin color or texture changes for sarcomas on or near the skin.

Diagnosing Sarcoma

Diagnosing sarcoma can be challenging because its symptoms often mimic those of less severe conditions, such as common injuries or benign growths. Doctors typically employ advanced imaging techniques like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans to identify sarcoma accurately. These methods provide detailed internal images that can reveal abnormalities suggesting the presence of sarcoma.

A biopsy, which involves taking a small tissue sample from the suspected area, is crucial for a definitive diagnosis. A pathologist examines the biopsy sample under a microscope to determine the nature of the cells and confirm whether they are cancerous.

In some cases, further laboratory tests may be needed. These may include genetic and molecular analyses to understand the tumor’s specific characteristics. This information is vital as it helps select appropriate treatment options tailored to the patient’s needs.

A comprehensive diagnostic approach is essential for accurate diagnosis and developing an effective treatment plan to improve patient outcomes. However, even with these sophisticated tools, distinguishing sarcomas from other types of tumors remains complex. This complexity in diagnosis often leads to a high rate of advanced-stage detection, which can severely impact the range of available treatment options and the overall prognosis for the patient.

By recognizing these diagnostic challenges, healthcare professionals can focus on improving early detection methods and tailoring treatments to enhance the quality of life of sarcoma patients.

Treatment and Management

The treatment and management of sarcoma require a multidisciplinary approach. The primary treatment is often surgical resection, aimed at removing the tumor with clear margins to minimize recurrence. Depending on the sarcoma’s location, size, and grade, doctors may complement surgery with radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

Chemotherapy is used selectively, particularly in high-grade or metastatic sarcomas, to reduce tumor size before surgery or to target cancer cells that have spread. Emerging treatments, such as targeted therapies and immunotherapy, are also being explored, offering hope for improved outcomes. Comprehensive management includes regular follow-ups and rehabilitation to address functional impairments and support recovery, ensuring a holistic approach to patient care.

Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones

Advocacy and education are crucial in making strides against sarcoma by promoting early detection, supporting research, and providing resources for patients and their families. By increasing one’s knowledge and awareness of the disease, we can make a meaningful impact in the fight against sarcoma.

If you or a loved one are experiencing sarcoma symptoms, you can request an appointment at Vail Health Shaw Cancer Center for a diagnosis. Our innovative, holistic approach combined with advanced technology and compassionate cancer care will ensure you receive the highest level of care.


This article was reviewed by Suzanne Torris, MS, RN, FNP.

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