Main Types Of Sarcoma: Bone And Soft Tissue

By Matthew Cenzon. May 7th 2016

A sarcoma is a broad generalization for a type of cancer that occurs in the bone or soft tissues of the body, which include cartilage, fat, muscles, tendons, nerves and blood vessels. More specifically, a sarcoma is a malignant tumor that occurs in these various areas and can occur anywhere bones or soft tissues are present. The specific name of the sarcoma is determined by the location where it occurs:

  • Liposarcoma: sarcoma that develops in fatty tissue.
  • Osteosarcoma: sarcoma of the bone.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma: skeletal muscle sarcoma.
  • Leiomyosarcoma: sarcoma that occurs in smooth muscles.
  • Ewing sarcoma: difficult to identify; can occur in soft tissues and the bones.
  • Fibrosarcoma: sarcoma in fibrous connective tissues.
  • Angiosarcoma: sarcoma that develops in vessel walls.
  • Lymphosarcoma: another name for Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

These are just a few of the various classifications of sarcoma. Osteosarcoma, for example, can be divided into 11 different sub-categories.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Causes and Risk Factors

Soft tissue sarcomas can develop in all kinds of people of various age groups. While the National Cancer Institute considers it to be a very rare type of cancer, there are several possible causes and risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma:

  • Anyone undergoing external radiation therapy is at a higher risk of developing sarcoma.
  • Chemicals at the workplace like vinyl chloride, arsenic and herbicides have been linked to soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Some inherited diseases have been associated with an increased risk of developing sarcoma like renal cell cancer syndrome or Von Recklinghausen disease.
  • People with HIV sometimes develop Kaposi sarcoma, which can be identified as red or purple blotches that are raised and appear around the mouth, skin, and gastrointestinal or respiratory tract.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms for soft tissue sarcoma may vary depending on the location of the tumor. Often times, they can appear to be a painless lump or swelling that can apply pressure to the normal tissue around it. As the tumor grows, complications may arise with added pressure on the tissue and nearby nerves or muscles. Pain, soreness and bleeding are just a few of these complications. Often times, a lump or mass may indicate another type of cancer, or a completely different medical issue. Consult your physician immediately if you discover an odd growth or protrusion.

Sarcoma Of The Bone

Causes and Risk Factors

Like soft tissue sarcoma, bone sarcomas (osteosarcoma) are relatively rare. While there are several risk factors that have been associated with osteosarcoma, the exact cause still remains unknown:

  • According to the American Cancer Society, teenagers are at a high risk of osteosarcoma during their growth period. It is suggested that during a teen's growth spurt, rapid bone growth increases the risk of tumor formation. Children diagnosed with osteosarcoma are typically tall for their age, which also suggests a correlation between bone growth and osteosarcoma.
  • Similar to soft tissue sarcoma, radiation therapy increases the risk of osteosarcoma.
  • Certain bone diseases can increase the risk of osteosarcoma.
  • Inherited cancer syndromes and medical conditions, like retinoblastoma or Li-Fraumeni syndrome, can increase the risk of osteosarcoma.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms for osteosarcoma include:

  • Pain in the particular area of the bone where the tumor has formed.
  • Swelling and tenderness in the area where there is bone pain.
  • An unusual, unexplained fracture induced with no direct trauma.

Sarcoma Treatment

The treatment methods for both bone and soft tissue sarcoma are similar. Treatment is typically determined by the stage of the disease, meaning the size of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The three main forms of treatment for sarcoma are:

  • Radiation therapy: Also known as radiotherapy, radiation therapy uses high energy x-rays to eliminate cancer cells and shrink the size of the tumor. This form of treatment is effective when tumors can't be surgically removed. It's important to note that the level of treatment for radiotherapy must be precise so that healthy tissues aren't affected, which would increase the chances of another form of sarcoma from occurring.
  • Surgery: In most cases, surgical removal of the tumor is the most common form of treatment for sarcoma. Tumors found in the arms or legs may require amputation to treat the sarcoma, but with advancements in medical surgery, it is possible to remove the tumor while sparing the limb.
  • Chemotherapy:Chemotherapy uses anticancer medication like, ifosfamide or etoposide, to shrink or completely eliminate tumors. This form of treatment is commonly used with surgery or radiation therapy. Unlike surgery and radiation therapy, which focus on one centralized area for treatment, chemotherapy is meant to eliminate any cancer cells in the body, including the ones that may have gone undetected.


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